How to Help your Child Strengthen their Inner Voice and Encourage Self-Expression

The inner voice is the quiet, wise place inside all of us that knows what is right for us. By the time we are adults, we have received many messages from the world that complicate our relationship to our inner voice. Sometimes obscuring it- making that whisper hard to hear, and other times making us doubt what we know to be true.  These messages take us further away from our deep wisdom, and muddy our ability to communicate clearly and express our needs. Many of us as adults, are only now in a process of re-learning how to access this wisdom, how to remember what once came easily to us. It can be a long and slow process to undo the conditioning that took our whole lives to be reinforced. These things that we have to unlearn as adults, often lead us to make vows to do things differently with our own children. What would life be like if that inner wisdom was always clear? If we could trust ourselves to know what we need, and then feel confident enough to express it?  What if we could hold on to that knowing from the beginning? Caregivers can play a big role in supporting their children to trust their inner voice, and express their needs. Mental health experts agree that when people are in connection with their inner wisdom it can lead to increased self-confidence, feelings of resiliency, increased self-trust and healthy boundaries in relationships.  

Setting off to encourage your child’s inner wisdom and self-expression whilst surviving everyday life is no easy feat. We venture to guess that most of us have experienced moments of wishing (or perhaps strongly insisting) our strong-willed child would “stop arguing and just go to bed already!” Turns out, it’s the arguing and challenging us that indicates that they have a strong connection to their inner (and outer) voice! There are many moments in parenting where the adult’s perspective and plan need to be adhered to, and limits need to be set- so how do we set limits while simultaneously validating our children’s perspective? Well, it’s not a perfect science, but the way we communicate with our children can play a big part. 

One important thing to keep in mind when encouraging self-expression in children is to use phrases that affirm positive messages to show your child that you hear & value their feelings. Here are some ideas of things to try at different ages, to help support your little one in trusting their inner voice and self-expression from the very beginning…


With Infants: 

  • Instead of saying,  “Shhhh, baby don’t cry.” Try saying, “Wow, you are really letting me know you don’t like that, I hear you.” 
    • Why this works: From the very beginning, infants are picking up on our messages through nonverbal and verbal cues. Validating that they have an opinion and don’t need to be quiet about it encourages self-expression. This subtle change can also change our own mindset, reminding us that quietness is not the end goal. 
  • Instead of saying, “Here baby, take one more bite for me.” Try saying, “You are showing me you are all done with that.” (When your child is indicating they are finished eating).  
    • Why this works: Infants are still learning lots of things about the world, but they are experts on their own body and sensations. Infants can show you through various cues when they are done eating. This is a place where we can really tune in and respect our children’s boundaries and not override their message with our own feelings or worries. 

With Little Kids:  

  • Instead of saying,  “Share that toy with your sister!”  Try saying,“I see you really want to play with that truck and your sister wants it too. When you are done with it, you can let her have a turn.” 
    • Why this works:  Always making a child share a toy, as soon as someone else wants it can send the message that other people’s needs and wants are more important than their own. Insisting your child shares some of the time will not likely do long term damage, but consider also allowing your little one to have times where they are allowed to continue playing with the toy they are using without being interrupted. (Experts agree that this approach does not lead to selfish kids- it instead can help children feel less anxious and inclined to hang on to objects).
  • Instead of saying,  “Be careful!” Try saying, “I notice you are climbing up high. I wonder how your body feels up there” (while moving closer to support if needed). 
    • Why this works:  Being in touch with one’s inner wisdom, also includes the wisdom of the body. A toddler is built to explore what their body can do. Instead of encouraging fear with our words, we can respect our child’s body’s wisdom by allowing them space to explore what they can do while adding support for safety. Asking questions from a place of curiosity about how their body feels can help children notice their own physical limits. This helps them build trust that their bodies will let them know when something feels unsafe. They won’t always need to look to someone else to tell them if something is safe or not. 

With Big Kids 

  • Instead of saying,  “Don’t be bossy”  Try saying, “You really have a clear idea of how you want that to go!” 
    • Why this works: Children (especially girls) get labeled as bossy, when really another way of looking at this behavior, is that the child is showing initiative and displaying “leadership skills!” Before stepping in, take note of how the other children are responding to your kiddo. Are they fine with it or are they looking uncomfortable or frustrated? Try validating your child’s strong perspective, while encouraging her to find curiosity around her friends’ perspectives and ideas too. 
  • Instead of saying,  “It makes mommy sad when you__(ex. Don’t listen) ” Try saying,“You are showing me you have really strong feelings about that!”  
    • Why this works: When we tell our children “that makes me sad,” we are wiring them for co-dependence. While it may be true that our child’s reluctance to follow direction is triggering an emotional response in ourselves, it is our job to regulate our own emotions in these interactions- not our child’s job to regulate us. When instead, we focus on our child’s emotional state, we validate their perspective, their emotions, and emotional state helping them to feel heard, understood and supported. 

If you notice that you’ve used some of the non-recommended phrases in the past- never fear! We picked these phrases because they are super common! We’d venture to guess most of us have used these phrases at some point! Saying these things sometimes is not going to ruin everything- it’s more about finding some flexibility and trying out some new ways of communicating.   It’s not too late to try out some new phrases to affirm positive messages in your home about the value of your child’s perspective and inner wisdom. There are many ways to support our children in strengthening their inner voice, these are not the only ways, in fact, the best advice we have is to trust your own wise inner voice to be your guide as you find unique ways to support your individual child.

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  • andrea udell

    Lovely way to be more effective parents.Wish you were there to tell my mother that I wasn’t the president of the torture your parents club but was finding my voice earlier rather than later! In the 40’s children were raising children .Today there is a more informed and more adult parenting.

  • Donald McReynolds

    I Struggle with self-esteem everyday. When I’m at work thats when it get to be the hardest thing to get my opinions across. I say whats on my mind and, it gets me into trouble. Thank you so much for this.

  • Litzi Hartley

    I am a mom of 2 daughters ages 14 and 20. I am also a therapist with 20+ years’ experience. This is fantastic! If more people parented this way the world would be a better place.

  • Laura Thomas

    Thank You for this article it has helped me better understand why certain times in my life I have been unable to voice what I thought or felt Growing up in the 40’s as the 9th of 10 Children I was invisible and silent

  • Judy Collins

    I’d love to hear more about supporting adult children that struggle with self-esteem

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