Create the family you want to have

Teaching Children to Use Affirmations

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Loving Siblings

Loving Siblings (Photo credit: BenSpark)

All my regular readers know I am a fan of affirmations. I use them for parents all the time. I also find them to be very useful with children, especially for children who have a history of trauma or neglect. For these kids, and other children, teaching them the use of affirmations is another tool in their coping skills tool kit and can teach children who may never have learned to regulate their emotions a new way to self-soothe.

An affirmation is something you say to yourself. Positive thoughts affirm positive feelings. Negative thoughts affirm negative feelings. Both are affirmations. The trick is to decide what it is that you choose to affirm.

When teaching children about affirmations, I typically go through the following process.

1. I pick something a child is talking to me about that bothers them, say a friend who is being mean to them, and have them practice two different types of  statements they might say to themselves about the friend while noticing how they feel after saying the statement a few times. For example, we might say, “She’s mad at me for no reason!” a few times. We talk about how the child’s body feels as she says that statement a few times. Then we try an alternate statement, “I have many friends who love me. I deserve loving friends.” We notice what happens in our bodies after saying this statement as well. I teach children that the statements we just learned are called affirmations.

2. I read children the book, “I Think, I Am!” by Louise Hayand Kristina Tracy to further introduce the concept of affirmations and show examples. I have never read this book to a child who did not love it and want their own copy.*

Cover of "I Think, I Am!: Teaching Kids t...

Cover via Amazon

3. We practice together with creating affirmations and pick one or two for kids to work on that week.

Do’s and Don’ts for helping children create affirmations

1. One major pitfall I see parents fall into when they help children create affirmations happens when they place an expectation on a child that might not be realistic or does not align with the child’s goals. “I can get an A on that Math test!” is a surefire way for a child struggling in math to feel like affirmation’s fail. A more general, “I am always learning and growing.” works much better since it is true and does not lead to the argument, “But I’ll never get an A in math!”

2. Be careful about believing there is only one positive way for things to turn out. It may be best for this friendship to end. Not making the team may open up a child to a new experience with a different sport they never would have tried otherwise. You can avoid this mistake by gearing affirmations toward a positive belief system ( I like Louise Hay’s, “Everything is always working toward my greater good.” or “The universe (God, spirit) has wonderful plans in store for me.”) rather than a specific outcome.

3. Allow children to come up with affirmations that work for them. Keep it simple. I remember my daughter telling her nose, “I’m ready to be healthy now.” when she was four. That was a message she wanted to give her body and she got better the next day. I do not mean to minimize any illness, but I do want to highlight that by telling our bodies what we want, we are programming them. Think of the difference between saying, “I’m fighting a cold.” and “I’m returning to health.” One tells your body to fight, the other tells your body to return to its natural, healthy state. If you do not believe that your body responds to your thoughts, I like Cheryl Richardson’s way of saying explaining this. She asks whether you have ever had a sexual fantasy and noticed a difference in your body. Hmmm? The more we research this, the more we learn about the connection between thoughts and physical health. Still don’t believe me? You might want to read this article from the Mayo Clinic.

4. Use affirmations yourself! When kids see you use them, they follow suit, it’s as simple as that. You know there are times when you hear your words come out of your children’s mouths. Sometimes it feels good to hear it, sometimes it’s not so good. Using affirmations yourself gives you more of the good ones.

5. Beware of glossing over negative feelings. Affirmations help us to see the positive in negative situations, but that does not mean that we pretend there are no negative feelings involved. It is important to still acknowledge the negative feelings i.e. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team!” but to then use affirmations to chose a way to self-soothe by choosing what you are going to believe about not making the team. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team, but I know I can still find other ways to have fun.”

Have you used affirmations with your children? What’s your favorite affirmation to use with your child?

*If you want your own copy, you can easily purchase this book by clicking on the Amazon widgets link at the top right on my webpage. Please see the disclaimer page before doing so.

September 20, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, child development, Parenting | 15 Comments


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