Inner Coach vs. Inner Critic

Enrichment Therapies

March 5, 2017

by: Sarah Sitzmann, M.A., CF-SLP

Is your child overly critical of themselves if they make a mistake? Do you notice that they have a hard time staying positive if the task is hard?

At Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center (ETLC) we utilize materials from the Social Thinking Curriculum, specifically teaching through “Inner Coach and Inner Critic” by Michelle Garcia Winner.

Your “Inner Coach” refers to the positive self-talk that you have with yourself when you are succeeding. Your “Inner Critic” is the negative self-talk that is more likely to come out if you’ve made a mistake or working on something that you feel is difficult. First, describe to your child that he or she uses self-talk. Ask your child to consider what they would say to themselves if they reach for something in a hot oven. Usual responses would be, “It’s hot,” “Be careful,” or “Get a hot pad.” Explain that these are things they may think in their head, but not necessarily think aloud, so we call it self-talk. Tell your child that sometimes self-talk takes a negative tone, which they can call their “inner critic,” and that they will learn to replace it with more positive self-talk that they can call their “inner coach.”

Below are a few examples of things your inner coach & your inner critic might say. Read a variety of things your child might say and have them sort which things are what their inner coach would say and which things their inner critic would say. You could set up containers with labels that say “Inner Coach”  and “Inner Critic.”

1.) You make a mistake when you are writing something. You say:

o Ugh. I’m terrible at writing.

o That’s okay! I have an eraser.

2.) You are feeling happy but get a paper cut. You say:

o I will just get a band-aid, it doesn’t hurt too bad.

o OH NO! this is terrible my hand is never going to stop hurting.

3.)  I can’t remember what we just read in the reading group. You say:

o I have a terrible memory, I can’t remember anything!

o Stay positive, my friends and teachers will help me remember.

4.)  Your brother or sister accidentally broke one of your favorite toys. You say:

o I hate them, they ruin everything.

o It’s okay, they didn’t mean to do it. I’m sure it can be fixed.

5.)  You slipped on ice getting out of the car. You say:

o This is going to be a horrible day and nothing will get better.

o No big deal, at least I am not hurt. I can move on.

6.) You are at school and feeling tired. You say:

o I’m so tired I can’t do anything. I am too tired.

o I’m going to keep working as hard as I can, when I get home I can nap!

Brainstorm the following questions with your child, as this can be a great time for your child to reflect on self-talk. It’s important to note that self-talk looks different on each child, so identifying things your child might think or say is critical.  It’s important to also discuss with your child how the inner coach & inner critic makes them feel. When they use their inner coach during a feeling of success, they feel even more successful. However, if they use their inner critic while they are already struggling it will exacerbate the problem.

See if your child can come up with a situation that happens to them!

• Write what your inner coach would say:

• Write what your inner critic would say:

Now that your child understands this concept, try using it when your child’s inner coach OR inner critic appears. For example, if your child is working on a difficult math problem AND they are remaining positive, you could tell your child “Wow! I like how you are using your inner coach to keep positive.” However, if you see your child is becoming discouraged with the problem ask them if they are using their inner coach or their inner critic? Have them think about what their inner coach might say in that situation. It’s important to emphasize how using your inner coach helps us be successful and remain positive even when things seem hard. Be sure to check out my blog about big problems vs. little problems as well as my blog about emotional reaction size before teaching about inner coach vs inner critic.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131



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