ingAs parents, we want to give our children the gifts of confidence and high self-esteem. We want to shower them with affection and adoration, hoping this love will fuel their souls. We have the best intentions, yet we miss something critical: confidence is an inside job.
Boosting Confidence Starts With Brain Rewiring
How do we help our kids develop their confidence unless we tell them how incredible they are? There is mounting evidence on the significance of mindset, in this case, a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.1 When people believe their traits or qualities are fixed or unchangeable, they lose motivation to take risks, struggle to overcome challenges, and wither in the face of failure. When people believe they can change, grow, and adapt, they are more willing to take on reasonable risks, persevere through challenges, and learn through mistakes.
The science behind the growth mindset has everything to do with neural plasticity, the understanding that our brains constantly rewire based on our life experiences.2 This includes our environment, what goes into our bodies (food, supplements, medications, the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink), and even our internal thoughts and emotions. Just imagine: the structure of your brain after you finish reading this article will be different from before reading it! Our brains are constantly changing. We can use this neural plasticity to our advantage, especially when helping our children’s brains make healthy connections.
Cultivating a growth mindset influences how we respond to our children and their behavior. Rather than use praise, which evaluates our children’s qualities or the outcome of their effort, we use affirmations that celebrate our children’s process and the growth they achieve as a result. This is a tricky distinction, so it’s alright to feel a bit confused at first. Let’s look at some features of affirmations to see how they differ from traditional praise.
How Affirmations Are Different Than Praise
When using affirmations, we want the child to experience their feelings, not internalize ours. By telling a child, “I’m so proud of you,” we send the message that we feel good about their actions, regardless of what they think. When we say, “You must be so proud of yourself,” we allow the child the space to consider how they feel. They might agree and internalize, “Yes, I AM proud of myself!” Or be authentic in sharing, “Actually, I don’t think that was my best.” We want our children to develop an awareness of their feelings, which can be different from ours.
How many times each day do we say, “Good job!” without recognizing the details? Telling our kids “Good job” can create praise junkies: kids who only do things if they receive praise and feel shame when they don’t. You can share your delight in your child’s activities by being more specific. Again, letting them feel their own pride, joy, and confidence. You simply need to name the action: “Wow! You walked across the room on your two feet!” Or “Oh my! You stacked up ten blocks!” Or “Cool! You added so many different colors to your picture.”
When we observe and state what we see, we give our children the gift of forming their own reactions and evaluations of their experiences. This may feel boring or mundane, and that’s alright. Our children don’t need us to cheer them on for every little move. They need us to be with them as they celebrate on their terms.
Traditional praise is unilateral: I am judging what you did (even if it’s a positive judgment like talented, intelligent, kind, or loving). It lacks reflection and blocks opportunities to connect through empathy. It assumes the child feels the same as the adult, which undermines the child’s sovereignty. When we are clear about our feelings and allow and accept our children’s distinct feelings, we honor their experiences and validate their individuality.
We aren’t aiming to be stoic, unfeeling beings; we intend to express our feelings while teaching our children to express their own. Rather than saying, “You give the best snuggles,” we can say, “I feel so warm and loved when we snuggle!” The child gets to have their own feelings (which can certainly mirror ours) without any expectation that they must be the same as ours. In his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall Rosenberg describes three components of appreciation: “this is what you did; this is what I feel; this is the need of mine that was met.” Using this formula to convert compliments and praise into authentic appreciation allows our children to learn and grow from the experience.
40 Affirmations to Tell Your Child
Considering these differences between traditional praise and supportive affirmations, you can begin to hear the subtle changes in how a child would receive the messages. You can also see how affirmations support your child to develop their true sense of themselves: their inner confidence from their internal experience. Use this list as a starting point for affirming your child. Don’t worry about getting it right or wrong. If nothing else, tell them every day, “Thank you for being my baby. I love you.”
1. You must be proud of yourself.
2. This is tough, and you can keep going.
3. You are a problem-solver.
4. You have a lot of ideas.
5. I can see you worked really hard.
6. You did better than last time.
7. You put great effort into it.
8. You have learned so much.
9. That is easier for you now.
10. You practiced it so many times.
11. You gave it your best.
12. It’s okay to make mistakes.
13. You can learn from your mistakes.
14. You can try new things.
15. This feels scary, and I’m here if you need me.
16. When it’s too tricky, you can take a break and come back.
17. You tried many ways to figure it out.
18. That used to be hard, and now you’ve mastered it.
19. This is hard, and it’s fun.
20. Keep trying. You’ll get there.
21. You can learn every day.
22. You can mess up and try again.
23. You can ask for help.
24. You create fun all on your own.
25. I see how you enjoy _____.
26. I feel amused when you tell jokes and act silly.
27. I feel peaceful when you snuggle with me.
28. I feel thankful when you take responsibility for _____.
29. I feel grateful when you help with ______.
30. I feel happy being with you.
31. Your opinion matters.
32. I value your voice.
33. You belong in our family.
34. I accept you for you.
35. I see you.
36. I believe in you.
37. I trust you.
38. I am here for you.
39. My love for you keeps growing.
40. I love you no matter what.
These affirmations can help boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem by celebrating their growth and confirming your love for them. What a great gift to give your child!