Can I boost my kids’ self-esteem and confidence by them practicing positive affirmations?
There is an undeniable attractiveness to the “positive affirmations” concept. The possibility of being able to rewire your brain so that you overwrite negative thoughts and turn them into positive self-talk is a powerful proposition.
There is however controversy about how effective positive affirmations really are. Plenty of research backs the effectiveness of this self-esteem boosting tool. But, as always in research, there are a number of factors that influence the outcome.
Table of Contents
- What are Positive Affirmations
- Benefits of Affirmations
- Can Positive Self-Statements Backfire?
- How Does Positive Self-Talk Work
- How to Practice Positive Affirmations
- Positive Affirmations for Kids
- How can they help kids
- Are there times when they may be especially useful?
- How to explain positive self-talk to your kids
- How to practice affirmations with your kids
- List of 40+ affirmations for kids (free printable at the end of this post)
- List of 10 affirmations for anxious kids
- Research on Positive Self-Statements
What Are Positive Affirmations?
Positive affirmations are positive statements that we tell ourselves for self-motivation or to challenge negative thoughts.
Self-affirmation theory (Claude M. Steele) asserts that we are motivated to maintain the integrity of the self. When our self-competence is threatened, our self-system moves to restore our sense of self-worth. Reflecting on sources of self-worth, such as core values (even if those values are irrelevant to the threat itself) can help us restore the sense of self-competence.
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What Are the Benefits of Positive Affirmations?
Research suggests that self-affirmation can help:
- Mitigate the effects of stress
- Improve your self-esteem
- Enhance positive mood
- Reduce depressive rumination
- Cope with a psychological threat
- Enhance sports performance
- Promote social pro-social behaviors
- Improve problem-solving abilities under stress
- Improve performance on tasks related to executive functioning
- Combat stereotype threat
- Accept threatening information
This is just to mention some of them (I´ll be linking to a number of research resources at the end of the post)
But here is the twist.
Research has also found that practicing affirmations may “backfire”. People with low self-esteem problems may feel worse when practicing this type of positive self-talk.
How may this happen?
There is a clear reason. When the person practicing positive affirmations has low self-esteem, those statements create a “cognitive dissonance”. A mental discomfort caused by contradictory beliefs.
As the new statement contradicts your deep beliefs your mind just disregards that information. And, what is worse, that contradictory statement may just make you focus more on your negative beliefs.
How Do Affirmations Work?
When our sense of self-competence is threatened, self-affirmations can help restore the sense of self-competence by allowing us to reflect on sources of self-worth, such as core values.
Focusing on our values and other important aspects of our lives, help us realize that our self-worth will not be affected by that specific threat. It is a coping mechanism that helps us protect our sense of personal integrity.
How to Practice Positive Affirmations
Tips to start practicing affirmations (these are general tips for adults, keep on reading and you will find specific tips for kids in the next section):
- Write them down
- Formulate affirmations in the first person: “I am…”
- Write them in the present tense.
- Phrase them in a positive vs a negative way
- Repeat them regularly
- Repeat them when a negative thought intrudes
- Prepare affirmations that link to your personal goals and to ways to achieve them
- Find the practice method that best works for you:
- repeating them aloud
- writing them down and reading them to yourself (these affirmations worksheets are great for the little ones)
- looking at your reflection in the mirror while saying the affirmations
- linking your affirmations to visualization of how you will achieve your objectives
- keeping a gratitude journal where you write down your affirmations
- creating affirmation cards that you randomly extract and repeat
- practicing just when a difficult situation presents (worry, anxiety, fear of failure)
Positive Affirmations for Kids
The importance of developing a positive sense of self during the childhood years can´t be emphasized enough. During childhood, kids develop their belief system. And it will influence them throughout their lives.
It is not a surprise then, that lots of people have turned to affirmations as one more strategy to help kids develop a positive sense of self.
I am personally not too worried about how effective this specific exercise is. But I have my special reasons to add it to our fun family activities:
- I want to be intentional about promoting positive self-talk
- I want my kids to think about how wonderful they are
- I have a kid with special needs. I want to be ready for the day reality hits him and he realizes the number of things others do that he can´t. When that day comes, I want him to be absolutely confident that we love him exactly the way he is, that he has amazing qualities and gifts and that he is very aware of his special talents.
Related: Positive Affirmations Worksheets for Kids (Letter Tracing)
How can positive affirmations help kids?
There are a number of benefits to practicing this activity:
- Building a positive mindset
- Being reminded of how wonderful and loved they are
- Developing a can-do attitude
- Helping develop or improve positive self-esteem
- Focusing on their strengths and their positives
- Understanding that mistakes are good and are a great tool for learning
Also, research has shown that kids with a positive sense of self are less likely to bully or be bullied by others.
Are There Times When Positive Self-Talk is Especially Useful?
There are moments in our kids’ lives when affirmations may be an especially useful tool.
Your kids may benefit from an intentional approach to positive self-talk when they:
- Are transitioning into adolescence, and peer comments may influence/affect them more
- Have a tendency to focus on negatives
- Are prone to saying or thinking negative things about themselves
- Have anxious or intrusive thoughts
- Are very critical /harsh on themselves
Just remember the warning I mentioned at the beginning. If your kid has low self-esteem, it is important to do this the right way.
Keep on reading for my special tips.
How to Explain What Positive Self-Talk is to Your Kids
If you want your kids to engage in this activity, you obviously need to explain to them why this could be not just fun but also beneficial.
“Affirmations teach you how to think in positive ways. They help you believe in yourself. They can help you feel better when you are sad, angry or anxious”
How to Practice Positive Affirmations with Kids
1. Make them a fun family activity
2. Don´t push them if they don’t feel like doing them
3. Be a role model. Show them how you practice them and in which situations they help you.
4. As a warming up exercise, you may ask them to write a list of things they like about themselves. And also prepare a list of things you love about them. It will help them come up with lots of ideas.
5. Let them phrase them the way they prefer. Affirmations are usually stated in the first person, but I feel that may be a bit of a stretch for smaller kids.
6. Go beyond just writing them/repeating them:
- Write love/positive notes that they will find in unexpected places (a book they are reading, their pillow, their lunchbox, in the mailbox – note: you know your kid better than anybody else and will know and learn how to do this. My daughter was actually embarrassed that her peers would see my little “I love you note” in her lunchbox)
7. I don´t do them every day But I have them on display so that they can go to them if they need a reminder
8. Keep them realistic (to avoid going against their deep beliefs) but optimistic
9. Try formulating them as “ I…because” so that you can use them to challenge negative beliefs or an action plan for their goals.
For example, instead of “I´m great at sports” “I will manage to climb a rope because I will practice every day.
10. Phrase them in positive: “I am a great boy” instead of “I am not a bad boy”
11. Find the way to practice affirmations that best works for your kids:
- Practice them aloud or just self-talk in their heads
- Practice daily or less often
- Writing them down and put them up on display so that they can work as visual reminders
- Creating a binder that they can keep themselves or that is easy to access
- Articulate them as a gratitude journal
12. Identify a time of the day when it may work better to practice affirmations (probably a quiet time
13. Remember that creating routines around new activities always help stick to them, so you may initially want to do that.
14. Tailor them to what your child needs.
I´ve read affirmation examples that state things like “I´m the smartest boy” “I´m the best at sports”. I actually don´t like that type of statement. It puts pressure on performance. I rather focus on celebrating hard work, effort, progress, and values. My eldest kid has special needs. For us, writing “I can read” or “I am great at writing the shopping list” is a celebration of achievements.
15. Try letter tracing affirmations worksheets for younger kids, or for those with fine motor skills issues or special needs. It’s never too early to start. And fine motor skills issues have not stopped us!
Let me share now, some inspirational self-statements for kids:
40 powerful affirmations + 10 self-statements for kids struggling with anxiety
40+ Positive Affirmations for Kids
This list may help you as inspiration for your kids at home. But remember, it is about them coming up with these positive statements about themselves and writing them down.
1. I love myself, I´m a great boy/girl
2. I love myself exactly the way I am
3. My family loves me. Or even adores me!
4. My family loves me exactly the way I am
5. I love learning things. Every day, I am a little bit wiser.
6. I am going to learn something interesting today
7. My teachers like me and want to help me learn and become the best person I can be
8. I am a kind person
9. I am a good brother/sister
10. I am a good son/daughter
11. I am a good friend
12. I am polite
13. I am generous
14. I am trustworthy
15. I am very special
16. I am patient
17. I have a great sense of humor
18. I am fun to be with
19. I want to be a better person everyday
20. I am helpful. I help with household chores
21. I am helpful. I like to help my classmates.
22. I care about others
23. I am proud of myself
24. I am going to have a great day!
25. I am going to be happy today.
26. I am grateful for the good things in my life
27. I make things happen when I work towards my goals
28. I make my dreams come true when I plan and work towards them
29. I learn from my mistakes. They teach me valuable lessons
30. I learn more from a mistake than from a success
31. Challenges help me become even wiser! I am a problem solver. I like to look for solutions
32. I have special talents
33. I have an amazing imagination
34.I have a great memory
35. I come up with great ideas
36. I can control my temper
37. I work hard
38. I persist till I reach my objectives
39. I make good decisions
40. I am very good at learning languages
41. I love my life!
10 Positive Affirmations for Anxious Kids
1. I can control how my thoughts make me feel
2. I can control my emotions
3. I can change bad thoughts into good thoughts
4. Today I´m going to have a great day
5. I am feeling relaxed
6. I am going to be happy today
7. I do my breathing exercises and I manage to control my anxiety
8. I feel anxious but I can cope with the situation
9. I am feeling calmed
10. I am brave: I overcome my fears
Free Printable 50+ Positive Affirmations for Kids
I´ve converted this list into a beautiful printable PDF that you can put up on a wall or stick to your fridge for inspiration.
Research about Positive Affirmations or Positive Self-Statements
- Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress – Plos One
- Self-affirmation increases self-compassion and pro-social behaviors- Frontiers in Psychology
- Self-affirmation may be an effective way to stop ruminative thinking- APA PsycNET
- Self-affirmation as a deliberate coping strategy: The moderating role of choice – Science Direct
- Self-affirmation improves performance on tasks related to executive functioning – Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
- Combating stereotype threat: The effect of self-affirmation on women’s intellectual performance –Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
- Accepting Threatening Information: Self–Affirmation and the Reduction of Defensive Biases – SAGE Journals
And an article that highlights those situations in which practicing positive self-talk may backfire:
- Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others – SAGE Journals
Interesting Related Articles on Building Self-Esteem:
- How to Build Confidence in Kids: Fun Self-Esteem Activities for Kids & Teens
- Actionable Tips to Teach Positive Self-Talk to Kids