Q. My first-grade student, Tony, is a little guy who always has his head hung low. When asked to do something, he says he doesn’t know how to do it, or he can’t. Recently he told me he is “no good.” His mother does not seem as interested or involved as other parents. I spend extra time with Tony and encourage him to try new tasks and tell him how well he is doing. What would be some good positive affirmations to give a six-year-old to use? Any other suggestions?
A. Every school teacher, administrator, or staff person has encountered children like Tony. Sometimes these kids have been told by grownups outside of school that they are “stupid” or incapable of doing well. Other times, kids with low self-esteem have been ignored or simply don’t have a patient caregiver willing to help them or tell them they’re doing a good job. Positive affirmations can be one tool to help a child to be his own superhero. Tony might benefit from affirmations written on 3×5 cards to carry in his pocket or backpack. He may even put them up in his cubby at school or on his wall at home.
My favorite affirmation for children is, “There is a superhero inside me. I am a superhero!” Here are some other positive affirmations for children:
- I am lovable.
- I can do hard things.
- I have great ideas.
- I have special talents waiting to be discovered.
- I am a good person.
- I can be a good listener and learn from others.
- I can make friends and be a good friend.
- I believe in myself.
- I can understand most anything other children understand if I listen and ask for help.
- It’s ok for me to make mistakes and learn from them.
Here are some additional ideas you might consider for your classroom. Parents can also adapt these to use at home. Remember, even superheroes need a support team:
- Create Calm: Lead the students, including Tony, in a short group exercise that begins with breathing, then relaxing, and finally ending with a self-hug (arms crossed hugging shoulders). Then, they can pat themselves on the back.
- Group Work: Coordinate with a mental health professional to invite kids with self-esteem issues like Tony’s to create a club in which they would work together to increase their confidence and make friends. This would need to be coordinated with administrators and parents.
- Be of Service: Coordinate service projects at the school. Sometimes outside service organizations are interested in working with groups of kids. Helping others gives kids a sense of purpose and self-confidence.
- Find a Buddy: Pair a younger student like Tony with an older student who could provide extra help with school or socializing at lunchtime once or twice a week. Another option? Work with Tony’s mother to sign up with the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) organization. Organizations like BBBS can find a mentor for Tony who can be there for him. BBBS serves kids ages 6-18.
- Take Note: Keep a sticky pad handy and silently put one on various children’s desks including Tony’s. Write an encouraging remark on the sticky note like “Your drawing was so creative. I love the colors you used!”
- Good Starts: Before giving students new or harder work, give them an exercise they can easily complete in order to ease them into more challenging tasks. Kids want to feel capable and confident when approaching new areas of learning.
Teachers have an important job in the lives of families. Thank you for your work with Tony and all of your students.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT is an Austin-based psychotherapist.