“This moment won’t last forever” – I’m not saying this to predict the future but to offer an example of a phrase that can reprogram our minds in the midst of a hard moment, month, or year. In the flurry of family get-togethers, more COVID uncertainties, and sometimes exceedingly difficult circumstances, it seems like we all to look at ways to take care of ourselves. Children need that too.
Holiday gatherings often involve social anxiety and alterations in schedules. As we approach the cusp of a new year, let’s explore the gift of verbal affirmations for people of every age and why brain science has highlighted their value. These carefully crafted statements create happier moods, feelings of confidence, and heighten the ability to cope.
Much has been written about the power of affirmations. Some years ago, Meher Schools board member Dr. Wendy Ritchey and I co-wrote a book called I Think I Can, I Know I Can: Using Self-Talk to Raise Confident, Secure Kids. Self-talk is the term psychologists have coined for the way we direct ourselves to relate to the world. Saying things like “I’m not good at that” and “I can’t take this anymore” programs us to feel and approach situations in self-undermining ways.
On the other hand, psychologists say that positive self-talk is one of the most powerful forces for transformation. For example, rephrasing those statements to “I’m open to new learning” and “I’m strong and can handle difficult situations” actually alters our brain chemistry.
To create affirmations that work, we have to phrase them in the present tense so that our brain will respond to them as real. Try saying “I want to relax” and then substitute “I am relaxed” and see if you notice a difference. Here is a possible affirmation when parents are worried: “My children are strong, safe, and supported.”
Parents can introduce affirmations to children in many different ways, depending on the situation. Adults and children often catastrophize events and come to negative conclusions (“I don’t have any friends”) partly because of the way the brain works. Positive self-talk is a gift (“I actually have many friends who like me”) because it helps us counter painful self-doubt thoughts and inspire feelings of worthiness and confidence.
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Here’s a blog by a clinical social worker on using affirmations with children. Kate Oliver’s help4yourfamily offers parents “concrete skills to create positive outcomes” even when they are working through difficult issues. In her work with children and families, she frequently uses affirmation to help children develop positive self-regard and powerful coping strategies.