The Top 5 Ways to Encourage Positive Self-Talk in Your Students

Encourage positive self-talk in your students How many of your bad days were exacerbated by your own thoughts about the days events?  Have you ever tried explicitly reframing negative thoughts about yourself or a particular situation? Could you ever use a positive self-talk boost? I remember driving through the Costco parking lot looking for a spot one Saturday last December. I know, who goes to Costco on a Saturday in December? The mom who needs just a few more things for the holidays ((raises hand)).  Slowly inching up and down the rows of parked cars for 20 minutes induced a great deal of frustration. “This is so RIDIULOUS!” I lamented. ” I don’t have time for this crap!” When I reached the moment that I wanted to throw a tantrum like I was 2 years old, I knew I had a choice.  I could allow my irritation to escalate or I could choose a more productive approach.  I didn’t have any direct control over finding a parking spot, so making the best of my time was the other option.  Instead of putting my car in park, jumping out, and throwing myself on the concrete to scream and cry, I decided to choose mindfulness. My car was quiet (no sibling rivalry in the backseat, for a change) and I had a whole lot more to feel grateful for than I realized.  I GET to DRIVE in the Costco parking lot and that, in itself, is a privilege.  Owning a car and having the means to get what I need for the holidays?  That’s pretty spectacular.  It took all of 10 seconds for me to feel my body relax.  This parking spot “problem” wasn’t an inconvenience, it was a GIFT! That simple shift in my outlook probably had an impact on my entire day.

How About You?

Teachers and students aren’t the only ones using self-talk to shift attitudes and confidence.  Famous athletes and entertainers even use the power of positive self-talk to improve their performance.  Before games, Tom Brady says, “Try the best you can!” Volleyball Olympic gold medalist, Kerri Walsh Jennings, says three simple words… “Breathe, believe, battle.” Research also shows that self-talk can have a positive impact in many areas of life. If you have practice shifting your own attitude and self-talk, it will be much easier to help your students make positive changes.  Students will learn how to see situations, problems, and themselves in a new light. How do we encourage positive self-talk in our students when things feel frustrating or tough?  What does that look like in the classroom, the hallway, or the counseling office?  Here are a few tips to get you thinking.

Tip 1: Share the Research

Kids are much more likely to believe you if you give them proof.  Share research on the impact of their self-talk.  Teach them about the workings of the brain and how their beliefs impact their performance. This article, Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress, published by the Mayo Clinic, is a great place to start. Students may also be interested in how self-talk can impact their performance in sports.  This article, Self-Talk in Sports and Performance, published by Psychology: Oxford Research Encyclopedia, is an interesting read as well.

Tip 2: Be the Model

I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve been forced to draw a picture on the whiteboard to illustrate a point, I say, “okay, I’m warning you, I can’t draw.  Ugh, okay, here it goes…”.  Then I proceed to groan and create a stick figure that any 3-year old could outdo.  Do I feel like I’m good at drawing? Pshhh, no, not at all.  Is it necessary for me to go on and on about how much I suck at drawing in front of my students?  Definitely not. This is a perfect example of how NOT to model positive thinking. In that moment, I could have used a shift in my own thinking.  Instead of perseverating on how crappy I draw, I could’ve said, “My drawing skills are a work in progress.  You should have seen what it looked like last year!  If you can even believe it by looking at this drawing, practicing has really helped me.” There have also been times at home when I’ve mumbled things under my breath and been caught, red-handed, by my youngest daughter.  “You are NOT dumb, mom!  What would you think if I said that to myself?”  Yep, even though I know better, I screw up sometimes. Think of some examples in school when it would have been a good time to reframe a situation, remark, or problem.  As school personnel, we don’t have a choice but to be flexible when changes creep up.  How we handle those situations and what we say in front of our students can make all the difference in the world. It’s pretty simple. If you model positive reframing and self-talk, your students are more likely to follow suit. What if, like me, you forget and you make a mistake?  Tip 3 provides some guidance.

Tip 3: Call Yourself Out

It’s one thing to consciously model positive self-talk, but it’s an entirely different beast to call yourself out when you’ve veered the wrong direction.  When you make a mistake and revert to your old negative thinking, call yourself out in front of your students. The admission that you’ve made a mistake is a huge deal by itself, but showing students how to make that shift gives them tools to follow suit. Coming up with a list of taboo statements like, “I can’t do it!” is a good place to start.  When you slip up, show students how to reframe those negative thoughts.  “This is hard, but I’ll keep trying!” is an impactful reframe.  In addition to the examples in Tip 2 above, you can find more information about shifting negative self-talk to positive self-talk here. When your own frustration results in a negative attitude or unhelpful comments, show students that it’s possible to be in a state of overwhelm and still have the ability to shift your thinking (and your attitude).  Show them how to do it by telling them exactly what you’re thinking and feeling, as well as the positive shift you are making in that moment. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have raised my voice so loudly when you chose to talk instead of listen.  I felt frustrated, but I can handle that differently.  Next time, instead of raising my voice, I will take a deep breath and let you know I expect you to be quiet by turning off the lights.” Think about how you’d want your students to handle their missteps… and do that.

Tip 4: Infuse Positive Statements in Your Classroom Rituals

When you’re establishing classroom routines and procedures, throw some positive affirmations in there.  Know that consistency is KEY here.  If you choose to do it, truly make an effort to do it each and every time.  The real impact occurs when it becomes habit. Before students are set free to work on a new skill in math, for example, make a habit of repeating a positive affirmation like, “I can do hard things!” When you return an assignment and you know students might be disappointed with their score, ask them to repeat a positive statement.  “It’s okay for me to make mistakes.  My effort is the most important!” Display posters with positive affirmations and statements in the classroom to remind students.  Signage is also a valuable reference when students are asked to reframe a negative thought or statement.  Readily accessible messages give you many options for infusing positive statements as well.  You can see some examples of posters with positive affirmations in my TPT shop or in my store.

Tip 5: Educate Parents

The home connection simply can’t be ignored here.  Students must practice these skills inside and outside the classroom.  Let parents know that their child is working on shifting their mindset and applying positive self-talk to their everyday lives. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Ask parents to help their child(ren) identify specific times when their mindset or self-talk is counterproductive.
  • Share specific examples of affirmations they might use when their child exhibits negative self-talk.
  • Send an email to parents with links to research articles.  Like your students, sharing research will help parents understand the power of self-talk and mindset.
  • Educate parents by sending home information throughout the year.  You can find a few free notes on TPT or you can use these comprehensive notes which can be sent over the course of 33 weeks (found here on TPT).
  • Stay in communication with parents as you see students progress in this area.  Parents love reinforcement just as much (if not more) than students.
Finally, know that you CAN’T possibly do ALL THE THINGS.  If you feel overwhelmed, simply choose ONE of the tips and start there.  The commitment you make to implementing one strategy will pay back dividends for your students during their entire lives. You might also be interested in these posts:
I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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