How to really use positive affirmation cards for kids
You’ve probably noticed that positive affirmation cards for kids have really grown in popularity in recent years. They seem to be popping up all over the place right now, and I get asked about them frequently. People ask me how to introduce them to their children, what to do with them, and how they work. Or even IF they work.
And I’m going to be honest with you…when I was setting up the Mindful Little Minds Marketplace, I was initially reluctant to include affirmation cards in the lineup. Yep, really.
Why? Well, not because I doubted their effectiveness. I personally love affirmation cards. And there is lots of evidence that they effectively boost self esteem and foster positive self belief in children. I use them with my own kids regularly.
But I considered not putting them in the marketplace because the evidence behind the use of positive affirmation cards for kids is complicated. The research tells us that affirmation cards have to be used in a specific way in order to be effective. And I didn’t want to provide people with a product that they didn’t understand how to use.
But we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, let’s start at the beginning.
What are positive affirmations?
Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know that affirmations are short, positive statements you repeat to yourself. They often begin with “I am”, and end with some kind of positive quality. They are designed to ‘rewire’ the brain and challenge negative beliefs you might have about yourself, by replacing them with positive ones.
Affirmation cards are simply visual representations of those statements. The user is generally instructed to repeat the positive statement to themselves frequently, with the idea being, of course, that they will eventually come to believe this new, more positive, statement is true.
Do affirmation cards work?
Yes…and also…no. Wait, what?! This is an article about how to use positive affirmation cards for kids, so why am I telling you they don’t work?
Well, it’s not that they don’t work. There’s just very specific science behind the use of positive affirmations. They have to be used correctly if you want to reap the benefits.
And what are the benefits of using positive affirmations for kids? Studies tell us that when we use positive affirmations consistently, they help to build positive self belief, self worth, and feelings of competence.
BUT… simply repeating something to yourself over and over again isn’t really that effective when it comes to shifting your beliefs. It’s just not how the brain works. After all, I could tell myself that I’m purple every day for the next 10 years, and I would NEVER believe it. Because there’s actually a little more to it than that.
The science behind affirmations
Why do I not believe that I’m purple? Because my brain has absolutely NO evidence to support this belief. Simply saying it doesn’t make it true. I can look in the mirror and see that I’m not purple. My brain has years of evidence to the contrary stored away. So every time I try to tell it that I’m purple, it simply dismisses the belief as untrue. It says, “Nu-uh. I see all this evidence here. That’s crazy talk.”
And it does the exact same thing with all the other beliefs I have about myself too. If I’ve believed for 30 years that I’m not smart, then suddenly telling myself that I am smart (even if it’s true) won’t change my beliefs. My brain will throw it out. Dismiss it as nonsense.
In fact, research tells us that using affirmations like this can actually make our self esteem worse. Why? Because if I try to convince my brain that I’m smart, the first thing my brain is going to do, is look for the evidence. And all it’s going to find is evidence that I’m NOT smart. Because whether it’s true or not, my brain has been storing away the evidence that aligns with this belief for years. It has plenty. Which likely leads to me to believe even more deeply, that I’m not smart. And now that I’ve been reminded of how NOT smart I am, I feel even worse. That’s the opposite of what we want to happen!
How to really use positive affirmation cards for kids
So does this mean that you should throw away your affirmation cards and never use them again? No! Absolutely not. Affirmation cards are a brilliant resource that have a lot of power to affect the way your child thinks and views themselves. We just need to ensure they are used effectively!
Here are some tips for using affirmation cards with your child:
1. Discuss the affirmations with your child
Don’t simply ask them to repeat them. Use them as conversation starters. Ask your child for evidence that the affirmation is true. If the affirmation is, “I am a good friend” ask your child to tell you how they were a good friend today. If the affirmation is “I am brave” use this to talk about a time when they were scared but they did something anyway. Give the brain evidence that the affirmation is true.
2. Set your child up to succeed
Can’t find any evidence that the affirmation is true just yet? Then create your own. Create situations for your child where they can demonstrate these skills and qualities and feel competent and capable. What we say to our kids is important. What they say to themselves is important. But what’s more important is what they experience for themselves! The only way to truly develop positive self belief is to experience success and mastery. Again, build up their brain’s evidence bank so when you introduce a new belief, the brain has plenty to draw from.
3. Choose affirmations that mean something to your child
Research tells us that affirmations are most effective when they align with our core values. When a belief we have about ourselves comes under fire, maybe because we come across an unexpected challenge, or experience rejection or failure – we question our worth and our beliefs. This is when affirmations really shine. They give us a chance to reflect on what we value and believe to be important. So the affirmations you use with your child should align with their own beliefs and feel important to them. Is being ‘strong’ important to your child? Then use this affirmation. If it isn’t, ditch it. Your child’s brain will never be convinced anyway.
4. Be less positive
Yes, I know this sounds counter productive. But if your child is really struggling with a negative self belief, such as “I am dumb”, then they are simply not going to believe you if you try to change the belief to, “I am smart”. It is too different to their current belief.
The brain tries it’s hardest to hold onto what it believes to be true. If you introduce a completely opposite belief, the brain will simply dismiss it as untrue. It doesn’t mean it won’t believe it eventually, but you’ll need to move towards this belief more slowly if you want to convince the brain. Maybe try something like, “I keep trying even when things are hard”. This acknowledges the struggle your child experienced, while also highlighting a positive quality that helped your child overcome the challenge!
5. Start young
Affirmation cards are most effective if you start using them while your child is young. It is much easier to build these positive beliefs into your child’s inner narrative from the outset than to try and change negative and unhelpful beliefs later on.
6. Adjust your expectations
Using affirmations is not about your child thinking positively about every situation, or believing only positive things about themselves. They are not magic. They can’t make the untrue, true. Using affirmations will help your child to focus on the positive things that are important to them, rather than dwelling on the negatives.
For example, maybe they’re not great at maths – using the affirmation “I am great at maths” when evidence tells us this isn’t true, won’t be effective. But perhaps they always try their hardest, and of course, they do have a family who loves them, regardless of their maths skills. And these things are just as important (if not more important) than being a maths wizz.
So when your child is disappointed about their results on their math exam, try to focus on their values. “I try my hardest.” or “My family loves me no matter what” are more helpful affirmations in this situation and will help them gain perspective and deal with their disappointment. This also helps them broaden and expand their view of themselves – a major benefit of using positive affirmation cards for kids!
Our favourite positive affirmation cards for kids
Now as I mentioned earlier, we love affirmation cards in our house. In fact, we have several sets and each of my kids has their own personal favourite. We’d love to share them with you, so here is a round up of our favourite six!
This set of 9 beautiful affirmation cards are printed on recycled card and come with a clear quartz gratitude crystal, wooden affirmation card holder, and a cotton drawstring pouch to store or transport your cards. Children can hold their crystal while they repeat their daily affirmation.
This set of 16 glossy affirmation cards are aimed at the 7-12 year old group. They are bright, fun and colourful and have a bit of a growth mindset focus, encouraging children to try their hardest, face challenges, and learn from mistakes. They come with a cotton drawstring bag to store your cards. There is also a set available for younger kids, teen boys, and teen girls.
This set of 18 affirmation cards comes in a sweet tin for gifting, storage and display. These cards feature colourful, bright geometric patterns that are designed to capture the attention of their young users. They also include cards that help children understand and talk about different emotions. These are also available for younger kids and teens.
by Love Cubs
This set of 30 cards feature empowering I AM statements paired with some amazing hand painted animals that represent the quality on the card. Children can choose the animal they feel aligned with based on the symbolism portrayed on the card. The set comes in a drawstring calico bag and a wooden display stand is available to purchase separately. There is also a version of these cards aimed at teens.
This box of 40 positive statements are illustrated with lovely warm drawings and focus on topics like kindness, self esteem, gratitude, thoughtfulness and helping others. The language and illustrations were purposely chosen to be relatable to young children – focusing on issues they are dealing with, using words they understand.
This unique set of 25 cards was designed for children BY children. All of the illustrations on these cards were hand drawn by a team of young children. They give a brilliant insight into the mind of a child and help kids feel less alone on their journey. They come in a cotton drawstring bag for gifting and storage.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.