I’m not sure when inner voices emerge, but I expect we all get them eventually. If we’re lucky they’re helpful, and know their places as humble advisors or great supporters. Pure, quiet, centered voices that clarify right from wrong and help us make good decisions. Unfortunately, some voices turn out to be bad companions who follow us around for life, nagging, criticizing and generally making us miserable. In the worst cases, they drive us clear round the bend.
I eased into this topic with my third graders last year. I started by asking, “have you ever had a good coach? Like at soccer, or gymnastics?”
A few nodded their heads.
“What’s a good coach like?” I asked.
“He says ‘good job’,” one boy points out.
“He tells you what you did right,” says a girl, “but also how to fix things, like if you don’t get it.”
“Exactly. And does a good teacher do that too? A good mom or dad?”
Lots more nods.
“Have you ever had a bad coach, or a bad teacher?” I ask.
“Yeah, they’re mean. They tell you you’re no good.”
Now it’s my turn to nod.
“You got it. So here’s a tip. As you grow up, you’ll probably meet both kinds of people – the ones who build you up and the ones who cut you down. Try to avoid the ones who make you feel bad about yourself, and spend more time with the ones who are kind.”
This seems fine with everybody.
“But what about this?” I ask. “What if those people aren’t the problem at all. What if they’re just voices inside your head?”
This seems a little puzzling.
“Do you ever talk to yourself? Do you ever say ‘Oh no, I’m such a dodo? I’m never going to get this?’ That might make you feel hopeless. Or maybe you say ‘Gee that was hard, I bet if I ask my teacher for help she’ll explain it better.’ That makes you feel hopeful, like there’s a way to solve your problem. Can you see why that voice would be more helpful?”
Okay, they get that.
“As we grow up, those voices in our heads come along for the ride. We may not even realize it at first, but there they are, yammering away. The trick is, focus on the voices that belong to good coaches, teachers or parents, someone who encourages you and helps you figure life out. Encourage them to come back any time. If the bad voices show up, ignore them, or tell them to get lost.”
We mull that over together. It’s a big life lesson I took too long to fully grasp. I hope my students figure it out sooner. We’d all benefit from being a little better at being our own coaches, or at least our own best friends.
I wasn’t entirely sure this would resonate, but then I stumbled across this nice little clip – kids, it turns out, have a pretty good idea of what positive voices ought to be saying!
Here’s another great clip, of Ashton Kutcher providing some great coaching to kids on how to live life.
And last but not least, I can’t possibly talk about coaching without sharing a clip from a true master coach, possibly Dale Carnegie reincarnated as a nine year old: Addie Liebhardt. She’ll be leaving a mark on the world, no doubt about it!