“I’m rubbish at this!” – Why the way your children talk to themselves matters

How to teach resilience

Why is it that some children are willing to persevere at a task until they succeed whilst others give up very easily – sometimes after only trying once? We all know that developing resilience as a quality will make us more fulfilled, as we are then able to grow, learn and ultimately succeed well in life.

That tenacious attitude is sought after by employers and is a quality we admire in others, such as Olympic athletes or amazing inventors who overcome obstacles and often come out the other side of adversity.

How can we help our children to become like this? We want children that can face the problems life has to throw at them and persevere through times of struggle – whether this be in their learning or their life.

I believe the key is in developing their inner talk. From my experience, children who struggle with resilience and give up easily are often talking to themselves in a negative way. They may be thinking (or even sometimes saying aloud) ‘I’ll never be able to do this,’ or ‘I’ve tried but it’s too hard for me.’ This shows a lack of belief in their own ability and and the idea that learning is fixed – ‘If I can’t do it straight away – I will never be able to, ‘I’m not clever enough.’ This mindset needs to be shifted into a ‘growth mindset’ by encouraging children to talk more positively and hopefully to themselves.

Mantras/Affirmations to develop resilience

For instance, if a child at home or in the classroom is giving up and saying ‘I can’t do it,’ we can whisper words of encouragement in their ear! We can teach them to use mantras to talk kindly to themselves and support their own growth.

‘I can’t do it yet – but I will learn.’

This is a hopeful mantra that also acknowledges their future success depends on their effort.

‘When I practise I make progress.’

This mantra helps them to think about their own progress as they learn so they are motivated to keep up their effort. It also helps children to focus on their development rather than on the end product. You can help by reminding them what they have already achieved so far.

‘Try, try, try, to catch that fly!’

This one is catchy! It comes from our story about resilience, ‘Don’t Give up, Sadie Spider.’ It is a positive and rhythmic chant to enable children to keep going with a problem or task.

‘If I keep going, I will succeed.’

This mantra develops an attitude of perseverance and a belief in their own ability to learn.

‘Why don’t I try a different way?’

This mantra helps develop creative problem-solving and gives children an ownership of their own progress.

‘I can ask for help when I’m stuck.’

This mantra is best to use when children have already tried a few times to solve the same problem. Rather than stepping in straight away and rescuing them, allow children to try to succeed on their own. However, also encourage them to ask for a little help if they really need it.

Finally, when a child has succeeded at their task after putting in lots of resilience, avoid saying, ‘Oh you are so clever,’ because this undermines the effort they have gone to. It is much better to say, ‘You worked so hard to learn that – brilliant effort,’ as this shows them that the way to success is through perseverance rather than just expecting it to happen and being disappointed when it doesn’t. They could use this mantra,

‘I persevered and I did well.’

Resilience is a cumulative skill – once a child has persevered and succeeded, they will be more and more willing to do it again with a different skill. After a while, their mindset will shift and they will begin whispering words of encouragement to themselves every time they are faced with a problem, rather than seeing it as insurmountable!

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