Years ago, Emile Coué, a French physician, caused quite a stir when he claimed that he had succeeded in treating some of his patients by using the power of affirmations. Coué said that when patients were told about the effectiveness of a specific medicine, they healed faster than when they received no information. This would later become known as the placebo effect.
The placebo effect suggests that our expectations can affect our bodies’ chemistry in a way that causes “fake medicine” to have an effect similar to “real medicine”, even though this fake medicine contains no active substance. In other words, it claims that one can use the subconscious mind to heal.
Coué claimed that: “Auto-suggestion is nothing more than a method of obtaining this control [of the subconscious mind], by hypnotizing the mind, so that it will act in the way we wish. This, I have found, can be accomplished by repeating over and over again what we wish to convince our subconscious mind is true”.
How positive self-talk can help change your child’s behavior
Years after Coué’s studies on the healing power of affirmations, the positive affirmations theory emerged and began to be used in different areas of life. His well-known mantra “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” set the stage for what would develop into the theory of autosuggestion. This theory suggests that positive affirmations can lead to positive outcomes, and negative ones to negative outcomes.
Positive affirmations have also been used to change children’s behavior. It was long believed that asking kids to repeat words such as “I am brave”, I am confident” or “I am smart” would make them attain those qualities. But we now know that positive affirmations do not work quite that way. Your child will not become “brave” simply by repeating “I am brave, I am brave, I am brave”, over and over again. Here’s the thing: if your child’s deeply held beliefs are not in line with the declared affirmations, those affirmations will fail.
The use of positive affirmations with children has come up against much criticism. Critics claim that using these affirmations can cause even greater harm among those for whom they are intended. They claim that repeating mantras one does not believe in can make problems worse, not better.
One of the greatest challenges facing Coué’s theory of autosuggestion is the absence of scientific proof. Skepticism has been rife, and critics have continued to say that uttering positive self-statements “may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who “need” them the most”. But what if Coué had been right? What if positive words really lead to positive results? Studies conducted years after Coué’s affirmations seem to support his views.
How to use positive self-talk to change your child’s behavior and performance
The impact of positive self-talk and the use of positive affirmations to modify children’s behavior has been the subject of much debate:
- Can using positive affirmations really improve your child’s behavior?
- Can these affirmations increase her sense of self-worth, her confidence and her self-esteem?
- Can positive self-talk improve your child’s performance?
Several researchers have found that using positive affirmations with children can help improve problem solving and creativity under stress. Others have found that using affirmations can help increase kids’ confidence. Yet other researchers suggest that positive self-talk in children can help increase self-compassion and pro-social behavior.
The latest study to come to a somewhat similar conclusion was conducted by a group of researchers from four universities (Utrech University, University of Applied Sciences Leiden, University of Amsterdam and University of Southampton). The objective of the research was to determine whether the use of positive self-talk would have a positive impact on the math performance of children with low levels of self-confidence in their math abilities.
212 children, aged approximately 10 years old, participated in the study. First, the children were asked questions related to their beliefs about their personal math competence and then they were requested to complete the first half of a standardized math test. They were then divided into three groups.
The first group was asked to engage in “effort self-talk”. In other words, focus was placed on how their effort would impact their performance: I will do my very best.
Participants in the second group were asked to engage in “ability self-talk”: I am very good at this.
There was “no self-talk” in the third group which was the control group.
Students in the groups which engaged in self-talk were asked to quietly repeat the self-talk statements for at least 30 seconds. They were then asked to write down the self-talk phrase and encouraged to repeat it while working on the second part of the test.
The researchers found that the children who performed best were those who engaged in “effort self-talk”. Those who focused on “ability self-talk” or had no self-talk had poorer results. The results of the study suggest that engaging in self-talk may help struggling children focus on their effort rather than on their lack of ability.
Science says this is the right way to use positive self-talk with your child
We know that positive self-talk can be beneficial for your child. There is evidence that using positive affirmations with kids can help improve their academic performance, increase their self-confidence and sense of worth and generally improve their overall wellbeing. Scientific research suggests that positive self-talk can be a powerful tool to help your child deal with difficult situations, but only if it is used the right way.
Here are four ways you can start using self-talk to improve your child’s performance and behavior:
- Focus on realistic affirmations to make positive self-talk work with kids
It has been proven time and time again that for positive affirmations to work, they must be consistent with our deeply held beliefs. The same is true for kids. If your child does not believe in the positive affirmations he is saying, those affirmations will not work. Simply repeating “I am smart, I am smart, I am smart” will not make your child perform better in math. Helping him focus on his effort will lead to better results when using positive self-talk.
Here are a few examples of affirmations that focus on effort:
- I’ll do my best
- I’ll try
- I’ll give it my best shot
- I’ll try different solutions
- I’ll learn from my mistakes
- I’ll get better with practice
2. Be a model to promote positive affirmations with kids
We no longer have to prove that our children learn more from what they see us do than from what we ask them to do. Simply put, if your child hears you using positive self-talk, she’s likely to start using positive self-talk too. Getting in the habit of using “effort self-talk” around your child is a powerful way to get her accustomed to using positive affirmations effectively. Here are a few examples you can try:
- I’ll give it another try
- I’ll try again tomorrow
- I’ll try something different
- The last time I succeeded in … so I know I can succeed in…
3. Don’t just stop at positive self-talk, find a way to link your child’s words to his actions
Why do people get better with time? Because they practice, because they learn from their mistakes, and because they never give up. Positive self-talk (“I’ll get better with time”) also means doing specific actions to ensure success (“Doing exercises for 10 minutes a day”). Your child will do better when he learns to associate his affirmations with the specific actions that will help those affirmations come true.
How to use positive self-talk the right way with children
A child who feels “like a failure” will not find his worth by repeating “I am successful, I am successful, I am successful”, over and over again, and that makes perfect sense. Unrealistic affirmations do not work. To get over his feelings of failure, he needs to adopt a growth mindset. He needs to understand what will help him achieve the results he seeks. For example, using phrases that help your child know he has the power to change things is more effective that simply making him repeat specific mantras.
Here are a few examples of powerful positive affirmations you can use with your child:
- Next time I will try…
- I know I can find the solution
- I won’t give up
- Next time I will ask for help
- Next time I will succeed
- I’ll try again
- I know I can count on XXX when I do not understand
Tools such as “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult” have multiple resources to help your child foster traits such as independent thought, confidence and a growth mindset.
- 4. Your child’s personality has an impact on the success of positive affirmations
The most powerful affirmations are those in line with your child’s personality. This means that the affirmations that work with one of your children could fail miserably with another. Asking children to participate in determining effective affirmations can be a powerful solution to adopting effective positive self-talk.
The most important thing to remember when using positive self-talk with your child is that for affirmations to work, they have to be consistent with your child’s internal beliefs, so show her that she is special and capable of achieving more than she could ever imagine.
Here is a FREE PRINTABLE of positive things kids need to hear to help you get started.