Words are powerful! Words affect every aspect of your body from the way you think, to the way you feel, to your actions. From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep your inner dialogue is on autopilot and you are continuously talking to yourself.
The majority of the time we are our own worst critic and our inner dialogue is filled with a wave of negative statements like, “I am not capable,” or “I cannot.” We will beat ourselves up and say these negative statements multiple times a day. Just imagine the negative effects these statements have on your body.
You are telling your subconscious you are not capable and that you are not enough. These negative words have lasting effects on your brain, your body, and your mood, which ultimately affect your interactions with your child.
In addition to your own thoughts, when you have a child with a diagnosis of autism you are being told ALL the things your child CANNOT do instead of ALL the things your child CAN do. Parents will often internalize this additional negativity and add it to their preexisting internal dialogue. I have had many parents come to me stating they were not good parents because of their own internal dialogue combined with what they were being told about their child and autism.
I am here to tell you to STOP with the negativity, to STOP with the words “cannot” and “incapable.” Begin replacing those words with encouraging statements like, “I can” and “I am.” Once you do, you will begin to feel better about yourself, your mood will begin to change, and you will see a difference in the relationship between you and your child.
I have come up with a list of five exercises to help you become more mindful of your negative self-talk patterns and shift your internal dialogue to be positive and productive.
1. Look up positive quotes and find three that resonate with you. Write them on sticky notes and tape them to the walls throughout your house. Place them in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc. That way when you have a negative thought you have a positive quote to remind you that you are capable and a wonderful parent.
2. It does not matter what the functioning level of your child is, children are like sponges and are taking everything in. Tell your child multiple times a day he/she is loved, what he/she is good at, and ALL the things he/she CAN and WILL do. Tell him/her in the morning, on the way to school, at pick-up, at dinner, and when they are sleeping. Words have power and telling your child he/she is enough goes a long way!
3. Often we focus on identifying when our child is sad and mad and do not identify when he/she is happy. When your child is happy or excited, identify that emotion and tell the child why he/she feels that way. We take happiness for granted, but children on the spectrum need to have all emotions identified, including happiness.
The more you help your child recognize happiness, the more experiences he/she will associate with that positive emotion. The more experiences your child has with happiness the more your child will engage in activities that make him/her happy.
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4. Each week pick a positive word that will be a weekly theme for your household. Choose words like love, happiness, capabilities, etc. Trace the letters of the word you choose on construction paper and have your child cut out the letters. Place the letters in an area of your house where your family can see the word as a reminder of what the weekly positive theme is. Talk about this theme daily and give examples of how you are practicing it.
5. Carry 10 pennies in your pocket. Every time you have a negative thought replace it with a positive one and put a penny in a jar. Alternatively, every time you positively reinforce your child with a positive statement, put a penny in a jar. By the end of the day you will have practiced saying 10 positive statements throughout your day.
By practicing these daily activities, you will not only see your mood shift, but your child’s mood shift as well. Both of you will begin to feel competent and capable not only in your relationship with one another, but your relationships with yourselves. Positivity takes practice and the more you practice the more you will begin to see lasting effects on your mind, body, mood, and relationship with your child.
This article was featured in Issue 99 – Navigating Relationships With Autism