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How to help your kids stop listening to the negative voice in their heads

Dear parent of a pre-teen or teen—the competition has started.

Whether you can recognize it yet or not, you've started to compete with another voice influencing your teen. It's not the voice of their peers (though certainly they're influential, too). It's not their teachers or coaches.

It's your child's inner voice, and it's not always kind.

This inner voice, which naturally develops as part of our identity-formation process, starts talking sometime in early adolescence, and in the midst of speaking some truth, it also says things like:

  • "That's stupid. People will think you're weird."
  • "You shouldn't have said that. Now they won't like you."
  • "They're probably talking about you behind your back."

Unfortunately we can't keep this voice from talking to our kids. But we can help them learn how to challenge what they're hearing from their negative self-talk, and discern the difference between it and the true voice God wants them to hear: His voice. Here's how--

Three ideas for helping kids challenge their negative inner voice

Teach them to capture their thoughts

How they do it: Kids can capture their thoughts by writing down what their inner voice is saying, texting it to themselves, or speaking the words into a recording on their phone. Just the step of recording thoughts promotes better objectivity, but they can take it a step further by reviewing the notes hours or days later to spot patterns.

What it does: Recording the steady stream of conversation from their inner voice exposes it to better critical thought, and gives kids the ability to be more objective about what they're hearing. They'll get better at spotting lies and truths, and quicker to shoot down the lies when they pop up.

What you can do: Kids will often vocalize what their inner voice is saying. When they do, and you notice a negative tone, make a note of it yourself. Pray over any lies you're hearing them speak, and ask God for guidance about how to counter these lies with his truth.

Give the negative voice a nickname

How they do it: Choose a generic name, like Negative Nancy or My Mean Voice, or get more creative with a really silly name. Then, when they review the thoughts they're capturing, they can ask, "Is that really true or is it just My Mean Voice talking again?"

What it does: One of the most difficult things about the voice in our heads is that it sounds just like us, which makes it seem more truthful. Teach your kid to deny it this advantage by giving their inner negative voice a nickname that's separate from their actual name. Doing so will help them distance themselves from the negativity, and provide better clarity about what's real and what's not.

What you can do: Use this generic or silly name in conversation when you suspect their negative voice is influencing them, like "Is that you or Your Mean Voice talking right now?"

Practice listening to God's voice

How they do it: Learning to hear God's voice can be challenging (maybe you even struggle with it yourself as an adult. That's normal.), but God wants to share his thoughts and heart with us and will help your kid hear him. Learning to hear his voice follows similar steps—namely spending time writing/speaking prayers, and then recording what they hear.

What it does: God's voice speaks truth and freedom to our kids, and naturally combats negativity and false truths.

What you can do: For help with this, Becky wrote an insightful article about how she learned to hear the voice of God that includes ideas for kids and adults alike. Read it to spark a conversation with your kid.

Got additional suggestions or ideas to share? Add them to the comment section, below.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Trisha

    Wonderful strategies about thought life training.. Thank you

    • celmore

      Thanks for reading, Trisha! We hope this article blessed you.

  • Losa

    Thank you. Perfect timing for my youngest. I’m already hearing the negative, it’s driving me nuts!!

  • Leslie Schultz Warthman

    My 10 year old has listened to a very dark inner voice for a long time. And I do tell her that those thoughts do not come from God! But your suggestions are additional ways I will help her with this self-denigration and pray it helps her. I’m seeing her shyness/lack of good socializing skills and low self-esteem developing alongside these horrible thoughts she is having.

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