What Kids Can Do For Themselves
Children should move past simple statements that make them feel better at the moment, like “I can do hard things,” and should also tie that to specific examples of what they have done in the past and what they can do in the future. Teaching your students to focus on the “why” and rationale behind their affirmation will help develop children into individuals who can self-reflect healthily and teach them how to build up their self-esteem. Providing specificity allows children to see their individual values for themselves. For example, if a child says about herself, “I am smart,” and repeats that affirmation over time, does she really do anything to support and develop her character? What happens when she is challenged by a child smarter than her or one that performs better on certain tasks? Instead, consider if that child drilled down to something more specific like “I am creative and think of unique ideas for projects. This makes me great at science projects, even if I don’t always get an A on science tests. I am smart in science because I do a lot of research to understand things well”. By explicitly defining her “smartness,” she is teaching herself to self-reflect on her strengths, and makes it more likely that she will be able to maintain healthier self-esteem on her own. Take this example to get a further idea:
“Isabel is a hard-working student that has many interests. She is a smart girl, but her grades sometimes suffer due to her ADHD. She is in a class of bright and motivated children and often compares her performance to them. In the past, her teachers have complimented her on being a hard worker, and Isabel often thinks of herself as having the strength of being hard working. One day, she became discouraged at a low spelling grade, saying, “I studied hard, and I still didn’t get an A. Some of my friends didn’t study at all, and they got everything right! Even when I work hard, I’m still not as good!” Concerned by Isabel’s demeanor, her teacher explained that every child has different strengths. She tells her that strengths are not always academic, they are not always obvious, but every child has things they are good at or things they are interested in that they can improve upon. Her teacher reminds Isabel that getting a good grade on her test is not the same as being strong in working hard. She works with Isabel to identify what is special about working hard. Isabel says that working hard is important for her because sometimes other kids will give up on something they don’t know, she figures out a way to do it, and she has learned how to study independently and look up research on the internet. Her teacher explains that not all children can do that, and even if she doesn’t always get an A on her test, she knows that she truly tried her best to work hard, and she can find ways to improve even more for next time.” By helping Isabel frame why being a hard worker is important and why that skill is meaningful, her teacher is helping promote a healthier self-image for Isabel through positive affirmations.
One simple method to begin teaching students how to explore their strengths in a healthy way is to provide a Strength Worksheet to help teach students how to self-evaluate in a positive manner. A strength worksheet asks students to select from a list of strengths or choose another strength. Then, students must explain exactly how that is a strength and in what context. By providing this additional information, students can really dig deep into what makes them special and unique:
I am ______ because ________.
This is a strength because____________.
I am a hard worker because I don’t give up when work is hard, and I keep trying and studying to make sure I do better and better.
This is a strength because when I get older, there will be lots of things that are really hard, so practicing hard work now will make me successful later.
What Kids Can Do For Peers
Peer-to-peer affirmation is beneficial for many reasons. First, it allows students to hear positive aspects of their character from their peer group. It also helps establish care for others, kindness, and respect for each other within a classroom environment. For the student providing the affirmation, it also helps to foster gratitude and appreciation for others and helps the child see the good in others. For the student receiving the affirmation, it can help shed light on aspects of their personality they may not have valued enough and allow them to think more highly of themselves. We want specific affirmations because it indicates to others that they have unique characteristics important to their community. When we hear others point out our strengths, it helps us feel valued and understood.
You can provide a worksheet to students to help foster positive affirmations for others. Group students in pairs. You could allow students to self- pair, strategically assign pairs, or randomly assign pairs. Ask each student to complete a strengths worksheet for his or her partner. Then, allow them the chance to discuss their thoughts with one another:
Why do I feel like that is your strength?__________
Why do I feel like that is important?________
You are so creative! I feel like that is your strength because every time I see your science project, you always have something extra, like lights or cool materials. This is important because you can always express your ideas in interesting ways.
Implementing positive affirmations in your classroom
How do you provide feedback to your students? Do you congratulate them for a high score, or do you praise them for their effort? Do you provide specific insights into what makes them great, or do you simply give some general platitudes? How you model your praise for your students will allow them to praise themselves and their peers. As you support students in providing positive affirmations to themselves and to one another, set aside some time in the day throughout your school year for them to brainstorm and write specific praises.
If you require a project presentation, build in affirmations after each project so students can identify specific highlights of a peer’s work and effort. After a final exam, ask students to reflect on their strengths- even if they didn’t achieve a high grade. By building in specific times of the year tied to an activity or event in the classroom, you can help teach students to look at themselves and others with kindness and positivity to learn to identify the best characteristics of themselves and others.