Self-talk is the inner voice that goes on inside our heads throughout our waking hours. Positive self-talk is when we talk to ourselves in a reassuring, kind, and more optimistic way. It’s the difference from saying to yourself: “I’m an idiot, I can’t believe I failed this math test” or “I’m disappointed in how I did on the math test but I’m going to talk to the teacher and study more next time”.
Positive self-talk can have a big impact on how we think and feel. Over time, engaging in more positive self-talk can help reduce stress, improve self-esteem, increase motivation, inspire productivity, and improve overall mental and physical health. Educators, counselors, and parents can have a huge role in helping kids and young adults develop a greater voice for positive self-talk.
Here are six strategies that educators and parents can use to teach and practice positive self-talk with kids and young adults:
1. Model positive self-talk. Practice using positive thinking skills aloud when talking about yourself and others. A simple way to start is with positive thoughts in the morning such as, “Today is going to be a great day” or “I’m ready for whatever the day brings me”. It’s helpful to highlight the positive, even in difficult situations or setbacks. After a bad grade on a test, you might talk with the child to say, “It’s one bad grade and you’ll be okay. You can learn from this can get better next time. The most important thing is that you try your best”. Similarly, give genuine compliments to others freely and encourage seeing the bright side of things. That type of optimism is often contagious.
2. Create a list of positive self-talk statements. Use this free list of 101 Positive Thinking Affirmations to help kids and young adults read through a list of positive self-talk statements. Kids can select from the list or come up with their own to create their own personalized list of ten favorite statements. Having a pre-made list can be helpful to start discussing exactly what positive self-talk sounds like.
3. Discuss the benefits to positive self-talk. Be open about what self-talk is and how it helps. Kids, and especially teens, might be skeptical about why they should change their thinking at first. Many psychology and self-help resources online can be worth reading and discussing together. Also know that practicing self-talk out loud might seem silly at times, but you have to change your words before you can really change the silent thinking in your head.
4. Incorporate crafts as a way to remember positive self-talk. Creating simple crafts with positive self-talk can be a great way for kids and young adults to learn positive self-talk. Best of all, kids can keep their craft for times when they need extra support. They can use it to help them start the day on a positive note or when they are feeling anxious, stressed, sad, or angry. You can create crafts on your own or find sample crafts to use. The craft below is a Positive Self-Talk Flower Craft that is easy to make and small enough to bring anywhere.
5. Practice changing negative thoughts into more positives ones. You can do this with made-up examples or real-life situations. Using an example like, “I only did well on this test due to luck”, challenge kids and young adults to turn the statement into a more positive one. Also, when a kid or young adult brings up a negative thought, encourage him or her to change it to positive self-talk.
6. Talk about real life challenges and situations. Talk about the challenges kids and young adults are going through and how they feel about those situations. This can be done in small groups, 1:1, or even in larger groups. Ask questions like, “What can you learn from that situation?”, “What could the positive to that be?”, “What did you do right?” and “How could that help you for the future?”. Try to focus on the positive, what went right, and what can be learned instead of dwelling on the negative. Setbacks and failures are great times to use positive self-talk because they are the prime time for feeling down. Use these real-life situations to show how positive self-talk can help you get back up again when faced with a difficulty or disappointment.
Remember that you don’t need to be a counselor or psychologist to practice positive self-talk with kids and young adults. It’s true that anyone can teach and practice it. The ultimate goal is for kids and young adults to develop a stronger sense of self-confidence, allowing them to become more independent and reach their individual potentials along the way.