This week’s blog post is the first in a series of three posts from health educators working with Candor Health Education, an Illinois-based nonprofit organization that educates students, their trusted adults and communities on the topics of drug and sex education. I think you’ll enjoy what Sandi Metcalfe has to say about the role that positive self-talk can have in setting our students up for success.
During puberty programs, Candor Health Educators commonly break the ice with students by asking “Can anyone identify any puberty survivors in this room today?” After some giggles and a quick scan of the room, most students start to count the adults present and eagerly raise their hands to be the one chosen to give their proud answer. While simple, this approach helps to ease anxiety and nervousness regarding the topic at hand and allows for a perfect transition into relaying the Health Educator’s important message: that not only will students survive puberty, but they also have the power to thrive during this time.
One way to help students thrive during their puberty years is through the encouraging use of positive self-talk, which, as defined by Kristin Scully of Pathways to Success, “is when we talk to ourselves in a reassuring, kind and more optimistic way”. However, practicing positive self-talk might be easier said than done. According to Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, the founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington, “the pattern of self-talk we’ve developed is negative” and we have to “intentionally overwrite [negative self-talk]” if we are to thrive in life, especially during the puberty years.
So, how can we help school-aged students “overwrite” their negative self-talk with healthier, positive self-talk? As a first step, we may have to start by sharing the emotional, social, and physical benefits of practicing positive self-talk. The benefits of positive self-talk are numerous and, as noted by the Mayo Clinic, include “reduced stress, lower rates of depression, and better cardiovascular health and physical well-being.” Sharing this information with students can help them “buy-in” to the idea of positive self-talk and reduce the level of skepticism that may arise when introduced to this topic.
Another strategy an educator can employ to foster positive self-talk among students is to simply model and practice positive self-talk as often as possible. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic suggest putting positive thinking into practice by actively replacing negative thoughts with statements that have a more positive, optimistic twist. For example, instead of saying “I am not going to get any better at this” we can say, “I will give it another try”. Or, instead of using language like “I’ve never done this before”, we can state “It’s an opportunity to learn something new”. Modeling positive self-talk can effectively demonstrate for young students that being more optimistic and less self-critical will lead to a more positive approach to life’s difficult situations and enhance one’s sense of self.
Finally, encouraging students to write down a list of positive personal attributes and self-talk statements is another way for students to engage in positive self-talk. Scully suggests that helping students come up with their own list of positive thoughts, affirmations, and attributes can help them to understand what positive self-talk sounds like. Furthermore, urging students to list their positive attributes will commit these thoughts to memory and allow for a more fluid transition of using positivity in times of need as they maneuver through puberty.
Using positive self-talk can positively impact the physical, social, and emotional well-being of school aged youth. By communicating the benefits of positive self-talk, modeling positive self-talk, and encouraging students to participate in positive self-talk by writing down positive personal attributes, adults can guide youth toward the lifelong benefits of reduced stress and overall better physical and emotional wellbeing. Positive self-talk can be a valuable tool that helps school age youth not only survive the puberty years but thrive as well.
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