Article Written by Jennifer Welton, MA, MS, LPCC

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant

Parents, teachers and caregivers all hold high expectations for their child’s learning and well-being. How many times have you heard a parent say that their child is so advanced? This hidden competition makes parents wonder if they are doing every possible thing to help or even push their child toward milestones that seem like their child will go “to infinity and beyond!”kid laughing and reading

We all have these built-in “Buzz Lightyear” expectations around what the child should want, do, think or be. I wonder though, if we are teaching children to think for themselves, or are we expecting them to follow our adult agenda. Sure, we must set rules for their safety and wellbeing, but are we planning too much that we don’t give the child time to be curious. As an advocate for the child, I wonder what the child’s expectations are and if anyone has asked them? Let’s try to think about the child’s voice. What would children ask for, and sure, it’s the gift-giving season and they’re likely to ask for a toy or the latest game, but what if we asked them what’s important to them? What if we start developing a curiosity driven child instead of pushing them academically at such an early age?

How do we teach children to think for themselves in the early years to prevent peer pressure from taking space in their head when they reach adolescence? The tool I’m describing is called metacognition, encouraging children to think about their own thinking. You might wonder, “How can adults encourage a young child to think about their thinking?” Dr. Kobayashi said that the “Theory of Mind” begins to develop in early childhood when children begin predicting the behavior of others, developing empathy and understanding, and forging human relations (2009, Source ).

In the preschool years, children are developing an internalized script or “self-talk,” this inner dialogue guides their emotions and behaviors. When children hear negative responses from the important adults (parents, teachers) in their lives, then “negative self-talk” will play on repeat in their head, setting them up for failure. Think about your own mental chatter, what does your inner voice tell you? Is it critical or kind? Read more about “self-talk” here. Teaching children to reflect on the “what,” “why” and “how” of their thinking will help them manage their frustration and reinforce self-regulation. Here are three questions that will help children build metacognition.

1. What are you going to do to enjoy school today?

2. If you could change anything at school, what would it be?

3. How can you be a good friend today?

Parents and caregivers here are two metacognitive questions to strengthen your self-talk:

1. “What can I do to be a positive role model to fulfill my child’s expectations as the primary caregiver in their life?” Are you letting work, or your mobile phone take up more of your time than building a meaningful relationship with your child?

2. “How can I stop myself when I’m about to communicate negatively with my child?” One tool to help you is from the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy approach called STOP. The S is to remember to stop and slow yourself down; the T is to take a step back to just breathe for a moment; the O is to observe what’s going on inside of you (are you hungry or tired); the P is to proceed mindfully being aware of your emotions and to keep them in check. The STOP tool can be used with the adult relationships in your life as well.

Happy Holidays and continue to spread good cheer!

If you or someone you know is currently in a mental health crisis, call 1-844-493-8255 to talk to a licensed therapist or visit the Behavioral Health Urgent Care at Community Reach Center, located at 2551 W. 84th Ave in Westminster.