You are one of the inner voices in your child’s head.

A few years ago I developed a group program for children between 8years and 14 years old to help them learn social skills and emotional regulation.

One session we did on social skills was to do a creative painting session with some positive and negative feedback loops. The purpose was for the children to understand how the feedback impacts on them and then how that affects their behavior.

The set up for this session was to have each child sit at their own table with paper and paint. Each child also received a mp4 player that they could listen to through earphones.

As preparation I recorded my own sons saying a series of positive comments and then a second recording with a series of negative comments. These were scripted comments they read off a page every 30seconds.

[restricted]We gave the instruction that the children could paint whatever they want to but they cannot interfere with anyone else's painting.

The first round was the negative comments.

It was amazing to see how all the children painted with dark colors and "dark" pictures. They started criticizing the other children’s pictures and their own.

When they were done we had a snack break and then did the same with the positive feedback. And the exact opposite happened, bright colors, sunny pictures and positive comments about their own and other children’s paintings.

When we discussed what happened the children were able to understand that if they do the negative commenting in their heads they will say negative things to the people around them and do negative things.

As part of this group process we met with the parents on another day to share the skills we have taught the children. The discussion took us to another level. The negative comments the parents are making become the negative comments the children make about themselves. For the parents looking at their children’s paintings it was clear how their feedback impacts on their child’s outlook.

The upsetting bit was when the parents acknowledged how they talk in the mornings before school with their children and then realizing that that set the child up for the day. It is then not uncommon for the child to have a difficult day at school, as he/she will be in that negative frame of mind.

At home I decided to repeat this exercise with my boys so that I can film it. My boys did not know before the time what the exercise was about. This is what happened:

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It is interesting to note how the temperaments are shining through. One is a typical rosebush who wants to win, the other a palm tree who wants to be part of friends.


We are wired to correct children, partly because we want to keep them safe and teach them to become responsible adults.

The reality is that they learn most about safety and responsibility by watching us. With verbal communication we pay less than 10% attention to the words that are being said. Verbally teaching values is thus not very effective.

When I do parenting courses I am always amazed about the feedback we get after the session on praise. Once parents start to notice the positives, children tend to behave more positive. This process is illustrated through the painting exercise at the start of this discussion. When you hear negative things you say negative things, your outlook is negative and you do negative things.

There is a wonderful video clip in the Incredible Years program when a dad positively comments on his son’s building skills and the boy then positively comments on dad’s skills and then on his own.

If you want to build confidence in a child stop correcting him/her and start encouraging her/him.



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