One Word to Eradicate Negative Self-Talk in Toddlers

Three must be a frustrating age for children. They are just beginning to learn how to do a large array of things, but realistically they aren’t very good at anything.

One of the most heard phrases in my house right now is “I can’t.” When she first started saying it I was horrified. “Of course you can. Not only do I know your abilities, but you are smart and beautiful and you can do anything.

But, that reaction always resulted in a very frustrated toddler and an equally frustrated mother.

A few weeks ago, Alli was learning to put on her own shoes. They are sandals with Velcro. It isn’t like there are any ties to tie and she can slide her foot right in.

But, at the beginning, she would give it a half-hearted try to then turn to me and say “It’s too hard. I can’t do it. You do it for me.”

My first instinct was to say “Of course you can do it. It isn’t too hard for you.”

This resulted in a slightly louder “No, I CAN’T.” and queue fit where I don’t understand why words of encouragement would drive her to this.

But, that was when I realized, that I was essentially telling her she was wrong without addressing her feelings or being empathetic. Everything I was saying was from my own perspective. I needed to look at it from hers.

It doesn’t sound negative when you tell someone they can do something. But, as an adult if I told someone I was worried about something and they just responded with “Well, don’t worry” and moved on would I immediately start thinking “Oh, I shouldn’t worry about it. I feel so much better?” Of course not. I would just be frustrated that they didn’t  acknowledge my worry.

If we’re saying something, it means we are craving some understanding.

So, instead of creating a more frustrating situation, when negative self-criticism happens try responding using the word “yet.”

“It’s too hard. I can’t put my shoes on.”



Because 1. You addressed the feeling and acknowledged it, and 2. Gave her a goal to work toward and hope for future success.

Follow up with an action item. A guided attempt, or maybe a supervised solo attempt. Using a forward thinking approach can reduce the anxiety about not being able to achieve immediate success in other aspects of life and an ability to maintain motivation to continue to try.

Final Note: Stop negative self talk in your own conversations. Children mimic what they see and hear. Give yourself a break and try some verbal positivity.

One thought on “One Word to Eradicate Negative Self-Talk in Toddlers

  1. You are so right that children mimic us. Sometimes I forget and say ‘sorry’ out of habit. My three year old grandson was saying it too until I explained he only says when he is apologizing. Great post about being positive with our children and grandchildren. Thanks for sharing with us at #overthemoon link party and hope to see you next week.

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