• Academic Support
  • Social & Emotional Learning
How to Help Students Reduce Destructive Self-Talk

Self-talk is essentially defined as our inner monologue and it can represent a way of narrating what is happening to you, practicing language, and/or guiding yourself through a task. Negative self-talk is often harmless as we all engage in self-critical talk/behavior from time to time. However, persistent, destructive self-talk may reveal an unhealthy tendency for students to think the worst of themselves and can lead to or be a sign of low self-esteem, a learning disorder, anxiety, or depression. Warning signs indicating that negative self-talk has become cause for concern include:

  • Negative self-talk is persistent and pervasive.
  • It is not based in reality. For example, a student always aces his/her spelling tests but remains extremely anxious that he/she will fail.
  • It is impacting a student’s relationships or schoolwork.
  • The student’s eating and/or sleeping patterns have changed.
  • Student is making vague “I don’t feel well” statements in the absence of physical symptoms.

Some of the ways to help free students from negative thinking and destructive self-talk include:

  • Listening & Validating: Never just brush off negative self-talk comments from students, even if they seem silly or not based in reality. Instead, offer a safe place for the students to come with concerns and try to find out what is triggering them.
  • Offer a realistic approach: Don’t counter critical self-talk with overly optimistic “positive thinking,” but rather offer a more realistic approach. For example, if a student is afraid no one will talk to him on his first day at a new school, you don’t want to say, “The first day of school is going to be super awesome! You’re going to make so many friends!” Instead, you might temper this and state, “The first day of school might be a bit scary but as you settle into this new community, you will likely make friends and grow to love it here”.
  • Put it in context: You can help students by providing them with a “broader perspective.” You can help them identify specifically what upset them or made them make such a self-critical statement, and acknowledge that one bad experience doesn’t equate to being the worst at something.
  • Model realistic and positive self-talk: Try to be cautious about what you say to yourself out loud. Don’t fixate on mistakes you’ve made or worry out loud about your appearance. Try to model positive self-esteem for students by sharing non-anxious coping and more realistic self-talk. You can even catch yourself in the midst of making a negative statement and create a valuable teachable moment. Let’s say you drop something and you yell out “Gosh, I’m always so clumsy!” You can continue the conversation in front of your students with something like “actually, I’m not clumsy ALL the time, just when I’m trying to juggle too many things at one time.”
  • Seek help from a professional: If your noticing that a student’s negative self-talk/behavior is persistent and negatively impacting the student’s social and/or academic life, or is linked to other troubling shifts in mood and behavior, you can contact a school counselor and seek suggestions for how best to support the student.

Academic Support   Mental & Emotional Health

By Tara McFalls, M.Ed., Director of Learning, Perkiomen School

Tara McFalls earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Philosophy and then began working in the field of neuroscience research. Although she loved the research and potential implications of rigorous scientific examination, she yearned for a classroom setting. She earned a master’s degree in Education and worked in higher education at Cabrini University for 14 years before coming to Perkiomen School.  

My role in leading classes and facilitating student progress is to demonstrate how identified strengths support, guide, and ultimately constitute the strategies students can use to redefine their challenges as areas of opportunity. It is in the discovery and appreciation of their challenges that students learn the necessity of building a toolbox of strategies to aid them in understanding and applying how they process, retain, and generate ideas and knowledge.Tara McFalls, M.Ed.