We’ve all heard that positive self-talk in athletes boosts their performance and negative self-talk impedes performance.
Much evidence suggests that words and thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies:
- What you say to yourself – silently or out loud – has power over what you become.
- What you say to your children – silently or out loud – has power over what they become.
- What your children say to themselves – silently or out loud – has power over what they become.
Understanding the power of self-affirmation
Emile Coué is often credited as the founding father of the self-affirmation theory. As a practicing pharmacist, Coué found that the patients to whom he praised a medicine’s effectiveness seemed to get better faster than those to whom he said nothing.
He thus put forth the theory that self-suggestion may have a positive or negative impact. His well-known mantra Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better was based on the idea that if you repeat a statement often enough, then it becomes true.
One of the things Coué emphasized, but which is now often overlooked, is the fact that when the will and imagination are in conflict, imagination will always triumph. By this, he meant that nothing can be achieved if there is conflict between the conscious and the subconscious.
Here is a practical example: When you’re frozen so stiff that you can’t feel your toes anymore, repeating “I am warm. I am warm. I am warm” a million times won’t make you any warmer. In other words, if you believe in your heart of hearts that you are worthless, looking in the mirror every day and saying “I grow beautiful every day” will only reinforce your feelings of worthlessness.
Coué also stressed that “It is easier to train the imagination than the will”. He argued that, for self-affirmations to work, people had to work on their emotional state and adopt an attitude in line with their affirmations.
But do Positive Self-Affirmations Really Work?
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the true value of positive affirmations. Some studies suggest that uttering positive mantras such as “I am confident” can fail, especially among the people they are most intended to help. In other words, self-affirmation may not work for all people. (This argument is actually in line with the emphasis Coué placed on aligning the conscious and the subconscious).
Despite this criticism, much evidence suggests that positive self-affirmations are beneficial:
What Should You Know When Developing a Positive Self-Affirmation Habit in kids?
It is no secret that much of our belief system is built early in life. Wounds inflicted in childhood can have far-reaching consequences. The things we hear from family, friends, and teachers are carried with us throughout our lives.
If you seek to develop the positive-affirmation habit in your kids, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
1. Positive affirmations can only work if the affirmations are realistic. Avoid unreasonable positive statements. Positive affirmations cannot work if the deeply held negative beliefs are not aligned with the declared affirmations. If the gap between the conscious and the unconscious is too wide, your kids will end up feeling worse than before.
2. Know your kid. Developing positive affirmations should be a personal affair. Affirmations should be developed based on your intimate knowledge of each of your children.
3. You have a higher chance of success when your affirmations are specific and explanatory. How you phrase affirmations plays a role in ensuring their success or failure. You need to make them work. Instead of kids saying “I have many friends”, a better affirmation would be “I have many friends because I always help people out.”
4. It takes time. The results of self-affirmation are long in coming because they require the affirmations to be repeated over a long period of time. Patience pays.
5. Self-affirmation exercises can be another option. Some studies have shown that exercises such as writing about the things you value can bolster feelings of self-worth. This is less dependent on an individual’s self-esteem and is consistent with the idea that grateful kids are more optimistic, happier and more satisfied with their lives.
6. Accept that you might fail. Self-affirmation does not work for everybody. If you find you are getting negative results, let it go and seek what works for you.
Simple Steps for Developing a Positive Self-Affirmation Habit in Kids
If you’d like to practise self-affirmation with your kids this week, here are a few simple steps you can try:
- Be a model. Children imitate their parents. If you want your kids to start practising self-affirmation, they need to see you practising it.
- Explain to your children why it’s important to develop a positive self-affirmation habit.
- Choose a specific time when you want to practise using self-affirmation and keep it short. Don’t make the period too long. Ten minutes a day is quite sufficient.
- Gratitude exercises are an easy way to start. Asking your kids to state the things for which they are grateful for and participating in these exercises is one way to start. You can set a specific time (for example every day before breakfast or dinner) where everyone takes turns speaking of the things they are grateful for. You can also give your kids a gratitude journal and keep one yourself.
- If you prefer to use positive affirmations, remember to make them realistic, specific and explanatory. If the affirmations are inconsistent with your kids’ internal beliefs, they will do more harm than good. An example of a good affirmation for kids is “I am a good communicator because I read at least one book every week”.
- Work on one affirmation at a time. Affirmations only work when they are repeated regularly.
- Practise for at least an entire week.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you’ll love my Workbook “This is what it takes to raise happy and confident kids”. This workbook draws on ideas and resources from research and the world’s greatest philosophers to bring you strategies you can start using immediately. Check it out here.