Affirmations: What Are They And How Do They Improve Learning?
Updated: Oct 31
“Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When you repeat them often and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes.” - Mindtools.com
Much like physical health where repetitive exercises help our muscles grow strong, the same holds true for our mental repetitions. Using positive mental repetitions - or affirmations - can reprogram our thinking patterns so that, over time, we begin to think and act differently when faced with adversity.
Studies show affirmations can help people perform better at work and school, reduce stress, build confidence, improve self-esteem, help with the emotional regulation of anger or frustration and even improves productivity.
With so many documented benefits, it’s easy to see how affirmations can play a big role in helping kids deal with and overcome their struggles in school - and in life.
Perhaps one of the most positive aspects of teaching kids to use affirmations is that they learn this self-affirming habit at a critical time in their brain development. As such, kids can avoid developing deeply etched patterns of negative thinking and self-beliefs that many adults find difficult to reverse.
Not always a cure-all
As a parent, you want to help your child – especially if they are struggling in school – to feel more confident in themselves. And as helpful as affirmation work can be though, experts warn to exercise some caution around using them in the right way.
It’s generally understood that affirmations work well on people with a high sense of self-worth but can backfire on those with low self-esteem by actually making them feel worse.
One particular study noted that people with low self-esteem benefited most from positive affirmations as part of a larger program of intervention, such as working with a qualified coach or therapist.
With that in mind, if your child is really struggling with their self-esteem or sense of worth, it’s best to introduce them to affirmations after they have other supports in place like a counselor.
How affirmations improve learning
It’s ironic that the biggest hindrance to learning is often school academic culture itself.
Dr. Erica Warren of Good Sensory Learning says that most of the time, schools and teachers focus their feedback on what is wrong with a returned assignment. Kids are constantly exposed to their “errors” throughout their entire school career.
This constant focus on what they are doing wrong can eventually lead to a sense of helplessness, frustration and even avoidance of schoolwork.
Here’s some examples of negative thoughts kids can have when struggling in school:
“I’m so bad at tests. I’ll probably fail no matter what I do.”
“Math is too hard. Everyone else seems to understand but me.”
“I hate reading. It’s so boring.”
“I’m just not as smart as other kids are. I’ll never understand.”
“I’m an idiot. No matter what I do, I still get things wrong.”
Dr. Warren believes that integrating positive thoughts and words can help to counteract any feelings of discouragement or failure, thus helping students step into their best academic selves.
This is achieved because the practice of affirmations helps kids put less pressure on the “letter grade” and focus more on the experience and process of learning. So, what does that look like in practice?
Introducing your child to affirmations
As already stated, instilling positive affirmations as a habit at a critical time in their brain development helps them develop a positive mindset that carries them into adulthood.
While it might seem awkward for us as adults to start talking this way to ourselves, it’s far less so for young kids, so the earlier the better!
How to create affirmations with your child.
Have your child write down or say what is hard for them in school.
Have them close their eyes and think about where in their body they feel that negativity.
Now have them reframe that thought in a positive way (you can help them here if they need it).
Have them place their hand on the area they “feel” the negative thought and repeat the new positive affirmation 5 times.
Some positive affirmation examples:
“I’ve prepared very well for this test. I know that no matter what, I’ve done my best and I’m proud of myself for that.”
“Every time I practice math, I get better and better at it.”
“I can do hard things.”
“It’s ok for me to make mistakes.”
“I am enough.”
“I believe in myself.”
Other ways to incorporate affirmations to improve learning
List the positive affirmations you create with your child and post them on the fridge or on their bathroom mirror. They can start their day by reading this list to themselves (out loud is best!) each morning.
Use sticky notes inside the cover of scribblers and textbooks so your child can go to them when feeling stressed in the classroom.
It’s never too late to teach your kids about the benefits of a positive mindset and the power positive affirmations have to improve their learning.
Start incorporating affirmation habits a bit at a time and eventually it will become second nature to your child to be their own best friend and persevere each time they encounter challenges in school and in life.
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