Transitioning from pre-school to school is a time of big change for kids. There are many new routines, new people, and new surroundings to get used to. While some children will take all this in their stride, most will need a little extra reassurance and support to make this transition a bit easier. Using positive affirmations is one way to encourage your child to feel positive and confident when starting school. Indeed, it will help them build a positive mindset, which will set them up for many wonderful years of learning – at school and beyond!
What are positive affirmations?
Positive affirmations are positive statements. They are written in the present tense and usually begin with “I can,” “I am,” or “I will.” They challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts by directing the conscious and subconscious mind towards optimistic thinking patterns. This cognitive restructuring can change thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviour, and it can help us strive towards a goal.
What can positive affirmations help with?
Positive affirmations can be helpful when a child is anxious or has feelings of fear, self-doubt, or low self-worth because self-talk inﬂuences emotion and behaviour. A child who ruminates on negative thoughts will reflect this in their mood, words, and actions. Their automatic thoughts (thoughts that are instantaneous, habitual, and unconscious) may become negatively geared, meaning they produce emotions such as sadness, guilt, frustration, or anger as their first instinctive response to new situations. For example, a child mixing with a new group of kids for the first time may immediately think, “They won’t like me” or “Nobody wants to play with me”, even if there is no evidence to support these ideas. Negative thoughts can become intrusive and are almost always unhelpful. In some cases, they can lead to anxiety and depression. This is where positive affirmations can help.
How do positive affirmations work?
The inner dialogue of a child plays a significant role in their happiness, motivation, and wellbeing. What kids say to themselves inﬂuences the way they feel about themselves and the things happening around them. Providing children with positive statements that they can repeatedly hear and say will lead to their inner dialogue reflecting the positivity around them rather than focusing on the negative.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner dialogue.”
We want to help our children adopt a positive mindset to prevent or combat negativity. We want them to be optimistic about the world around them and expect good things to happen to them, rather than assuming the worst will always occur. Kids who actively ﬁll their minds with positive thoughts practice what is known as a growth mindset. This means they view challenges with enthusiasm and understand that persevering through difficult tasks will help them grow and learn, even if they make mistakes along the way. Kids with a positive outlook are generally happy, motivated, engaged and better equipped to handle stress and new situations.
The good news is that, because their brains are still developing and have plasticity, it is relatively easy for a child to train their brains to think positively (much more straightforward than to retrain an adult mind that has developed a negative mindset!). Affirmations are a great tool in training brains to think more positively. They provide the language of self-love and empower kids to use their inner dialogue to boost self-esteem and confidence.
What is the science behind positive affirmations?
The purpose of the human brain is to keep us alive. This can involve making quick decisions to keep us safe when there isn’t time to assess options in each situation carefully. To do this, the brain has evolved to create shortcuts, or connections, which form our beliefs. Using these means the brain does not need to overthink each time it is confronted with a situation it has encountered before. The more kids think the same thought, the stronger the connection becomes. The stronger the connection is, the more dominant and automatic it becomes. An important thing to note is that the connection will become dominant, whether true or not. So, if a child has a thought that they aren’t good enough to learn to read, the next time they are placed in a situation where they are practising reading, it is easiest for their brain to relay the same negative thought that they aren’t good enough to read, even when there is no evidence to support this. The more and more this occurs, the deeper the belief the child will hold, and the harder it will be to change this belief.
Positive affirmations work by utilising the brain’s neuroplasticity. They train the brain to create stronger and more dominant connections than the old ones. So, to take the example above, if a child tells themselves ‘I can read,’ ‘Reading is easy for me,’ or ‘I am learning how to read more and more each day,’ these are the thoughts that will become ingrained over time. It will then be the brain’s automatic response to send this positive message to the child when they are in a situation that requires reading practice, leading to the reward centre of the brain being activated and the child having an enjoyable reading experience. Furthermore, there is MRI evidence suggesting that affirmations lower stress and rumination.
How to use positive affirmation cards
Using positive affirmation cards daily or when needed can be a simple yet powerful practice to offer a reminder or perspective during challenging times. Kids might like to create their affirmations or use a set such as the Savvy Kids Positive Affirmation Cards for Kids. Depending on your child, they may want to say their affirmations silently to themselves, visualise their affirmations, say them out loud in front of a mirror, or draw a picture of what the affirmation means to them. Creating a space in your house where the affirmation cards are displayed (perhaps along with some happy pictures and positive quotes) can be a meaningful visual reminder for children. The more a child repeats affirmations and is exposed to them, the more effective they will be at training the brain towards positivity. Families may wish to start the day by choosing an affirmation to focus on; for example, “I have people who love and care for me.” Selecting and discussing an affirmation will focus the mind on this idea, and children will learn to pick up on situations reflecting on this affirmation throughout their day. Doing this together is a lovely morning routine and a powerful role modelling opportunity for parents. Starting the day with a burst of positivity will assist kids in arriving at school in a happy and optimistic frame of mind, setting them up for a good day.
It is meaningful to take time to reflect on ways the positive affirmation was echoed in their experiences (for example, “my teacher took time to read my story and helped me make it even better,” or, “my friend helped me to find my hat”). Ending the day on a positive note brings the good things of the day into focus, encourages optimism for the next day and can lead to a better night’s sleep.
Positive affirmation cards can also be drawn upon in a moment of stress to fill a need. If a child worries about not fitting in, you may choose to display the card, “It is okay to be different to my friends.” Over time, the messages that the affirmations convey will lead to a more positive mindset. You may be surprised to see how quickly your child learns the affirmations and uses them independently (sometimes saying them back to you when you’re having a stressful moment!) Leading into starting school, the following affirmations may be helpful;
School is fun for me
I can do hard things.
Today is going to be a great day!!
I may not be able to do everything yet, but I will keep trying!
I have lots of friends at school
Affirmations can empower children by creating positive thought patterns, improving self-esteem, and supporting emotional regulation. When used in the transition to school, they are a great tool in setting kids up for happy, successful days.