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What do you tell yourself about your parenting skills? How often during the day do you pat yourself on the back and whisper, “Nicely done!” And is that more or less than the number of times you think, “Oh, I’m a terrible mother!”

What you say to yourself matters. Self-talk actually influences behavior but not in the way you might think. According Alan Anderson, a therapist and counselor based in Seattle (and no relation, by the way), the brain doesn’t hear your intention to be a better mother in this situation next time. It hears only that you’re a terrible mother. And terrible mothers act terribly.

Instead of changing your behavior for the better, self-talk that focuses on the negative makes you more likely, not less likely, to continue acting badly. And, of course, the more you act badly, the worse you feel about yourself and your parenting. You’re caught is a vicious cycle (vicious in more ways than one) and the best way out is to do something differently.

Tell yourself nice things.

You know that old discipline technique of “catching your child doing something good”? Well, apply that to yourself. Every time you catch yourself being patient, explaining something instead of barking orders, or walking away from an argument instead of escalating it… every time, notice what you did and remind yourself that that’s good. You know that when you use this on your child, catching him being good makes good stuff more likely to happen. So why not you? Remind yourself that you are a good parent and notice the evidence every time it happens.

And let the bad stuff go by. You know from your child discipline reading that you should ignore things your child does that aren’t worth making an issue of. So if your own parenting mistakes aren’t a big deal, don’t fret over them. Let them go. And if something is a big deal – if you made someone cry or broke something or swore – then apologize sincerely and then let it go. But notice first that you did something good when you said you are sorry.

Being a parent is not easy. Being an adult is not easy and being a parent on top of that makes things especially hard. So you’re allowed to make some mistakes now and then. But to keep from continuing to make mistakes you’ve got to notice more frequently how very well you’re doing. How much you know. How lovely your child is turning out.

Mostly, we’re doing fine. Pay attention to that.