How to Teach Your Kids about Their Inner Critic

Dr. Hazel Harrison has good advice for you to help your child explore and overcome self-critical thoughts. I pondered her idea of “The Critical Critter” as a fun way for children to handle the difficult subject of negative self-talk, and realized that this method could also work for adults who need a gentle way to address their own negative thinking. I encourage you to read her entire article, but here are the points I find especially helpful:

  1. Exploring self-critical thoughts can often feel like heavy, exhausting work, so using a playful approach can help children bring a certain amount of lightness to balance out the heavy work of noticing unhelpful habits and challenging them or approaching them differently.
  2. Referring to our inner critic as “The Critical Critter” helps children understand when they’re being too hard on themselves and also the crucial lesson that thoughts are not facts. Just because we think we’re rubbish at something doesn’t make it true.
  3. Think of some age-appropriate examples to share with your child about what the Critical Critter does. For example:
    • At age seven, our internal critic bursts into fits of self-incriminating giggles when we trip during a race.
    • Aged 16, it hides under the exam desk and repeatedly whispers “You’re gonna fail at this!”
  4. Teach them ways to shrink the Critical Critter, such as
    • Name their Critter. It will help them to notice when it’s at work and give them power to tame the harsh words.
    • Take the BFF test. Ask your child, “Would you speak like this to your best friend?” If the answer is “no,” it’s time to squash that negative self-talk, encourage them to be their own BFF (Best Friends Forever). Ask them to think about what they would say to a friend in a similar position, and also HOW they would say it.
    • Answer back. When it comes to the Critter, kids need to boss them back with statements like ““That’s enough out of you, Critter — I’m doing my best.”
    • Call for Backup. If your child is trying to master something new, the Critter may pop up. Encourage them to prove the Critter wrong by seeking the advice and support of people who have done it before — people who will say “You can do it.”
    • Create a positive moments practice. To cope with the Critter’s relentless criticism, it’s important that kids find things about themselves that they like. Each day, help your child find time to notice the things — no matter how small they are — that went well because of them. Encouraging a regular gratitude practice is a great way to build resilience, self-compassion, and to keep the Critter quiet!

Mindfully yours,

Dr. Pamm