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Instead of groaning when she realizes she made a mistake in her computation on a math problem, a seven-year-old says, “Kiss my brain,” with a smile, touching her heart, then her head, before continuing with the problem. Second-grade teacher Brenda Barnhart teaches her students to “kiss their brains” whenever they make a math mistake. She staunchly believes that learning to make positive responses to mistakes builds new brain connections. “Math was very difficult for me as a child, and it would have helped me to ‘kiss my brain’ every time I made a mistake.”


Many of us grew up with the idea that putting ourselves down for errors (“That was really stupid of me”) is normal and actually helps us save face in front of others. If we acknowledge we aren’t good at something, why should we be embarrassed? Having a self-doubting response to mistakes is natural because the brain is programmed to skew in negative ways, but children can learn to override that reflexive reaction and have the confidence to keep going.


Research bears out the idea that talking to oneself in encouraging ways increases brain connectivity in the reward-motivation networks, while negative self-talk reduces connectivity in some brain networks.


The phrase “Kiss my brain,” which has become a popular image in education, has importance for our perspective in every area of learning. In this age, as we understand more about the plasticity of the brain and the widespread existence of neurodiversity, we want to create new pathways for helping children appreciate their own minds and capacities for growth. Why not love the amazing capacities of our brains?


It’s hard to unlearn our self-talk, but instilling the habit of simply “kissing our brain” leads us into an evolutionary new way of learning based on gratitude rather than fear.

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