How to Hone Your Affirmation Skills

A Facebook friend posted a link to a Huffington Post blog (see reference) that I think can enhance parents’ abilities to affirm their children beyond just saying the common phrases like, “Good job!” or  “You’re the best!.”  Research shows that how parents and others affirm children makes a difference in how they view themselves, how hard they try and how well they succeed later in life.

How to affirm a child to have a growth mindset

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

Author Tracy Cutchlow shares the research of Carol Dweck. Dweck has been studying motivation and perseverance since the 1960s and found that children fall into one of two categories:

  • Those with a fixed mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their innate talent or smarts
  • Those with a growth mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their hard work

When children have a fixed mindset, they believe that success should just come to them because of their innate capabilities; so, if they are unable to do something when they first try it, it’s because they really are not capable. This belief can prevent them from accepting or even seeking new challenges and from working hard to improve their abilities.

Affirmations that can lock kids into this belief system are statements like, “You must be really smart to have figured that out!” or “You are so creative! Everything you draw is amazing!”

Children can gain a growth mindset when the affirmations focus on the efforts they are making, the potential that exists for them to problem solve, and embrace the challenges they face. “You really worked hard on that,” is an example of an affirmation that acknowledges the effort a child has made, which implies that he or she is capable of making that kind of effort.

The kind of affirmations used by parents and others who care for children impacts the inner belief systems of those children. Affirmations that focus on abilities to learn, grow, and become more proficient at something can promote an inner belief that it is possible, with enough effort and patience, to continue to improve. It can encourage them to become stronger, smarter, wiser or whatever the goal is that implies success.

Colvin’s research on affirmations

In his research, author Geoff Colvin, [Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else] discovered how and why some people are extraordinarily successful and therefore are considered to be “talented.” He found that it was really how much time and effort that was put into practicing. He also used failures as opportunities to gain new insights, along with a willingness to keep pushing oneself to greater levels of success that ultimately made the difference in who was considered to be talented and who was not.

Colvin’s research showed that a person needs to repeat and refine something 10,000 times before he or she becomes truly talented at it. By growing in the belief that one is capable of becoming better, stronger, smarter, or more talented invites children to take risks, relish challenges, appreciate that failures can provide invaluable lessons, try harder and believe themselves capable of doing better.

This is not to say that praising kids with messages like, “You must be so smart to have done well on that test” or “Super job!” are harmful. Rather, it can be helpful to see that these kinds of messages can restrict children’s potential to recognize they are not static in their abilities to succeed.

To promote the growth mindset and belief that intelligence is not a fixed entity, children who are affirmed in ways that encourage beliefs about their potential learn that they can continue to work to overcome challenges. They can learn they are capable of putting in a lot of effort, can problem solve and are motivated rather than defeated by those challenges.

Parents, too, can apply the principles of affirmations that promote the growth mindset to themselves. They can appreciate they are capable of embracing the many challenges of parenting. They can learn new ways to be more effective and successful and believe they are capable of learning and applying healthier approaches because the potential to grow exists within each parent. When a parent develops a growth mindset, it seems to flow in affirming communication to their children.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. Notice the ways you affirm your children: which affirmations might promote a fixed mindset and which might promote a growth mindset?
  2. Focus on affirming your children in ways that help them believe they are capable of growing, learning, improving, solving problems and handling challenges.
  3. Affirm your own abilities to learn, grow, change, problem solve and deal effectively with the many challenges of parenting.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network

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