Do you ever notice that small voice inside your head? The one that might give you a pep talk in challenging situations. Or the one that might cause you to further doubt yourself when feeling insecure. That voice is called your “inner voice” and is shaped over years, by the patterns of the things people say to you and the opinions others have of you.
As a teacher, and mother of four, voices around me rarely abate and at times I find myself seeking shelter in an attempt to block out the endless din of children’s voices. Almost calling out to Nanny McPhee, I dig deep to find that specific calming inner voice to reassure me that I am still myself and that I can overcome this!
During the past two years of long lockdown periods, and online learning, parenting in our house has posed new challenges and our family life has reached a new level of “crazy.” And in the midst of it all, our family decided to move continents.
I hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head, questioning my sanity when I announced the relocation to Malaysia.
I often found that in my most “frenetic” moments I cooked up the most brilliant brew of awesomeness. Yet, looking back to our move and settling in, I cannot help but think how this all impacted our children and their way of seeing themselves in this new, strange place.
As educators, we often refer to self-esteem. Self-esteem is one of the main predictors of success and achievement. Even with low cognitive ability, most people with a good measure of self-esteem manage to carve their mark successfully in the world.
I used to complain about my strong-willed and overconfident children. Until my mother-in-law reminded me that such traits are needed in the world today.
It was only upon deeper investigation that I realised that my children’s confidence and self-esteem developed long before I had the opportunity to complain about the challenges it has on my parenting style.
You see, self-esteem is something that is influenced by systemic factors. The world around us is the determiner of the way we see ourselves. The echoes of the voices we hear become our own opinions of ourselves, the developer of our self-esteem.
During many years of working with children of all ages, I have seen how the opinions of others can add to or detract from a pupil’s success. Initially, I observed this as a teacher, but as motherhood stepped through the door, I discovered that my words carry much weight.
It is well known that the human brain processes positive and negative information differently. Negative information and unpleasantness tend to have more of an emotional impact than positivity. Sadly, it is natural for us to notice undesirable behaviour and bad events in the world more than the positive. It is almost as if we crave the drama, the shock, the negative more than the reassuring and positive. We often become distracted by the emotional hype negative events create, paying more attention to the negative behaviour patterns of children in our care.
Our negative criticism and constant complaining can elevate us to emotional satisfaction and highs, but the inner voice of the people on the receiving end can result in a desperate low.
We often hear our children mimic our speaking in their play. My girls used to love playing mommy and daddy…my husband and I often cringed when we heard ourselves echoing through their play. Yes, our children’s inner voices stem from what they hear us say.
I realised this so much more as a teacher. An encouraging and uplifting comment often steers pupils in directions of success. We can all recall a teacher in our lives who said something that stole our joy or caused us to doubt our ability. Indeed some such words that were spoken may still have an influence on you to this day.
Without constantly being aware of it, we all have an inner voice. Our inner voice is shaped by the many opinions we are exposed to throughout our lives. As a child our inner voice is usually shaped by the people nearest to us, the people we trust. It forms the foundation of our self-esteem and how we perceive ourselves. We experience acceptance and rejection during our early voices and these have a profound influence on us throughout our lives.
Working as a therapist I frequently have to help young people alter their inner voice. A voice that sometimes causes them hurt and also to dislike themselves, feel worthless and/or weak. The voice of a father, mother, grandparent, or teacher that shaped a thought pattern, determines how our children see themselves. I have come to realise how important it is that parents understand the value of their voice and how they can enhance their children’s self-esteem, positive experiences and feeling of worthiness.
With that said, no one is perfect! We all make mistakes and we all lose our cool. The key is how we recover from such situations and how we address them with our kids. Breaking the chains of our speaking, in terms of what we say and the tone in which it is said, is not always easy, but it is possible.
What happened in my youth? What do I want to do differently? My generation’s parents were free-range parents and we are the helicopter parents. Their parents taught them to “toughen up” and our parents or teachers taught us about self-esteem. The pendulum shifts and the world moves on.
However, lessons learnt in the past and research from the present convince me that resilience, self-control, good decision making together with compassion and empathy stems from stable and positive self-esteem.
And as I watch my children embrace a new chapter of their lives, I realise just again that a great deal of parenting and teaching occurs in this process. My wording when addressing them will become their inner own voices and guide them through the decisions they make. They will echo in their minds as they struggle through a project. If they are hurtful or dismissive words, they will take a great deal of effort to overcome as they will linger long in the memory.
Relocation, changes and finding oneself in a new school and country is never an easy matter. My parental encouragement stems from my longing to see my children succeed, see them make friends and be happy. Their success stems from their own inner voice, which helps them adapt, stand tall and strong and embrace new opportunities with courage and confidence.
What message do I want to give my children? At the heart of the matter, I want my motherhood to teach them that they are great kids and are loved. As a teacher, I want exactly the same for all my pupils. Let all positive words echo after that.
Janine Jerling | College Head of Learning Support