I’ve already written about affirmations in general and made a pretty good argument for why you need them in your life, but what about kids? How can you integrate affirmations into your kids’ lives? Here’s how I approach it, using my knowledge as a therapist and my experiences as a mom.
First and foremost, remember this: The best predictor of your child’s mental wellness is your own mental wellness. Because kids mirror what they see around them and repeat what they know, the first place to put any energy regarding their mental well-being is into your own mental well-being. Insert oxygen mask metaphor here.
As a well-cared-for adult, you are now in a position to not only exemplify true self-care for your children, you are also much more likely to be able to successfully guide them toward true self-care for themselves. More specifically, if your children see you read your daily affirmation, they will be more likely to read their own. If they hear you say kind things about yourself, they are more likely to say kind things about themselves. Great, they’re copying your healthy habits. That’s the mirroring part, the repeating what they know. The next level is actually guiding them in their mirroring process. Now let’s help them develop healthy habits specific to their individual needs.
My kids are young and, even though my husband and I talk regularly about emotions and work deliberately to build their emotional intelligence, the sweet little things can’t communicate the way adults can. (OF COURSE THEY CAN’T #braindevelopment.) What this means is there’s a lot of guessing, what in therapy is called empathic conjecture. I imagine there’s a kid on my baseball team who’s consistently rude to me, which is what’s happening with one of my boys right now. I take a beat to put myself in his shoes, remember what it was like to be his age, to feel targeted or not good enough or left out, and I identify the emotions that come up for me. There’s fear, sadness, anger, helplessness. Then I say, out loud, to my boy: “Man, I wonder if you’re feeling pretty sad about this. Or maybe angry? I bet it’s hard to know what to do about it. Maybe it’s scary when that other kid is rude?” I purposefully make these questions tentative and open-ended, leaving a lot of space for him to correct me or add his own description. I use lots of other tools, too, like an emotional monsters poster and telling stories about when I was his age and kids were rude to me (we all have those stories). At some point, I get a clear sense of what he’s feeling and how he might want to feel.
THIS IS WHERE AFFIRMATIONS COME IN. Now, I don’t offer an affirmation right away. It feels invalidating and too forceful, like hey-kid-quick-feel-better-here-I’ll-help-you-let’s-get-rid-of-that-feeling-and-force-this-other-better-feeling… Ick. I make sure he feels heard, understood, important, and safe. Lots of listening, repeating his words back to him, asking for the whole story, and that empathic conjecture, plus physical touch catered to his specific preferences. And then, the next morning, when the kids are all trapped in the car on their way to school: I pounce.
“Okay, everyone! Let’s do it!”
They all know what I mean and they all pause, listening for what’s about to come: Daily affirmations all together now. We always start with the same one; it creates predictability and consistency.
“It’s gonna be a great day.”
Simple enough. But after that first affirmation, I start to cater them to my kids and what I know is going on with them. For my boy who’s having a hard time with his baseball teammate, I say, “I’m okay the way I am,” or “It’s okay to be angry,” or “Fear will come and fear will go.” We go through a dozen or so on our two minute drive to school, always ending with “I am loved.” And, most of the time, only one or two of the kids will repeat one or two of the affirmations after me. Lots of times, they jokingly repeat back, saying things like, “I am poop!” instead of, “I am loved.” Not once have any of them ever said, “Hey, Mom, I really appreciate those affirmations each day. They help me regulate my emotions and feel good about myself.” Never has happened, and likely never will.
But, of course, that’s not why I’m doing it. I use affirmations as a way to offer them a tool – one of many – for their self-care toolbox. I use affirmations with my kids as an extension of our conversations, as a way to remind them that they are seen, that the way they feel is valid, that they matter to me. It’s a low-threat, low-pressure way of letting them know, just as they’re about to leave my presence for eight or more hours, that I’m with them in their struggles. They are thought of and deeply loved.
However you use or don’t use affirmations, however you parent, find ways to help your children feel seen and heard. It’s amazing how healthy kids will naturally be with that parental connection intact.