Last reviewed 16 August 2013

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework states: “As children differ in their degree of self-assurance, plan to convey to each child that you appreciate them and their efforts.” Little planning or thought has gone into using affirmations with children, why it is done, and how affirmations could be used more effectively. Liz Hodgman reports.

Why use affirmations?

Babies and young children start life accepting everything that parents and adults tell them. They have no reason to disbelieve what they are told. It is therefore vital that children are given positive affirmation by the adults in their lives; otherwise there is a danger that they could be programmed with worrying and unhappy thoughts, which could have a negative impact on their lives. As carers, we need to help children have worry-free minds and be full of positive thoughts. If a child is full of worry or negative emotions he or she will not be able to learn and their brain will be closed to development. If a child is happy and positive, he or she will be more able to learn.

Affirmations can help a child develop confidence and build strong relationships. It can also help him or her to understand the link between cause and effect. For example: I do something and get a response — if I help to give out the milk at circle time, my teacher tells me how helpful I am. This affirmation can help prepare a child for his or her adult life by giving him or her a positive self-image.

Affirmations fit well with “assessment for learning” and “what makes good” used in primary schools. The strategy is available for download here.

Additional Support for Learning (ASL) helps pupils to develop their capacity for self-assessment, recognise all educational achievements, and is sensitive, constructive and fosters motivation.

When to use affirmations

Affirmations can be used at any time. If you see that a child in your care has done or said something that is worthy of affirmation, do it. However, it is important that affirmations are not used excessively as they then lose their meaning and purpose.

How to use affirmations

Avoid using bland or clichéd affirmations, such as “you are a good boy/girl” as they are not very meaningful. Use affirmations that the children will be able to understand and link to their actions or words (age-appropriate language and vocabulary). In addition, use positive language rather than negative, so avoid using the word “not”.

The present tense should be used in affirmations, for example “you are a fast runner”, and not “you will run fast”. Using “I am” or “you are” in an affirmation makes them more powerful. Keep them short and clear as this will make it easier for the child to understand and repeat them.

You can also use affirmation cards with children. These help to reinforce the affirmation as there is also a visual clue to accompany what has been said. The child can keep the card until the end of the day/session when he or she can be encouraged to share it with a parent or carer on collection. Alternatively, affirmation cards can be given out during circle time, with the children helping to share with their peers why they have received them. This can be difficult for very young children as they may not remember why they are receiving affirmation if their action was a few hours ago. Younger children are best affirmed immediately.

You can also make affirmation charts with children, using pictures or photographs, and adding positive affirmations. Make an affirmation box for each child to use either within the provision or to take home. (If taking home, provide an explanation sheet on what the affirmation is for and how the parents can use it.) The children can decorate their own box and then add a set of personalised affirmation cards. Make time each day for the children to choose a card from their box and talk about it. You can also share affirmation books with children or sing songs that are affirming.

Avoid using “but”. Using an affirmation and then adding “but” to the statement can completely discount the affirmation. Sometimes called the “verbal eraser”, the word “but” discounts anything positive that you have said as the child will focus on the negative statement that follows. For example, “You have made a wonderful collage, but it would have been better if you had used less glue.”

Encourage staff within the provision to also affirm each other. This will help them to be positive role models for children.

Making affirmation cards

Affirmation cards can be purchased from educational suppliers and online companies, but they are usually quite expensive. You can download sets of affirmation cards from the internet, but cards designed by others may not reflect the words or actions that you would like to affirm.

Making affirmation cards with children will provide a great opportunity to discuss what behaviour is expected within the provision, how to be helpful and respectful, and how to build positive relationships. Support the children to make cards that are meaningful to them and then add a simple affirmation statement to each one. Ideally laminate the cards as this will make them more durable. The children can draw their own designs or use images downloaded from the internet — you could also show them some cards that you have pre-made or downloaded to give them ideas. However, the children are the ones making the cards so it is important to allow them space to use their own creativity within the activity. It might be useful for staff to first discuss what sort of affirmation cards would be most suitable for the provision and draft a list of affirmations.

Additional benefits

Using affirmation cards with children will help them develop their literacy skills. They will recognise that words have meanings linked to the pictures on the card and what is said to them. They will also develop a wider vocabulary of positive words to use in their own language. Encourage children to affirm each other and think of alternative words to use rather than the ones you have modelled. Also encourage them to affirm themselves, for example “I like helping my teacher”.

Effective use of affirmations by all staff within a provision will help to support the management of behaviour as the children will quickly pick up that they are receiving affirmation for positive behaviour, words and actions. This will make them feel good about themselves and others, and they are more likely to be well behaved.

Children will also be more open to learning if they receive affirmation, as they will be feeling emotionally safe within the provision. They are also more likely to complete tasks if they have received positive affirmation that they can do the task.