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How affirmations can help children and young people with their anxiety

The way we speak to ourselves can have a big impact on our mood, our self-concept (the way we feel about ourselves), and our mental well-being.

Have you ever found yourself looking in the mirror before an important meeting or an exam and said “you can do this!”, or “you’re prepared, you know what you’re doing!” to your reflection? These are examples of positive affirmations, small acts of self-encouragement which are simple, but can be helpful for managing difficult situations and feelings if incorporated in our day to day life with intention. 

Research supports the efficacy of affirmations in reducing anxiety, promoting positive self-talk and improving psychological well-being, in several ways:

Affirmations can help us step back and take perspective:

A key aspect of anxiety, from a cognitive-behavioural therapy perspective, is that it makes our brain engage in ‘thinking traps’: for example, automatically imagining the “worst case scenario, or focusing only on the negative aspects of a particular situation.

One way this can be counteracted is through the process of “cognitive restructuring” which involves identifying these unhelpful thinking patterns (by taking a step back and observing what happens in our mind), and challenging the associated thoughts and predictions. Affirmations can help us see alternative, more balanced, and helpful perspectives.

One example is “thoughts are not facts, and I can choose not to believe them”.


They help us be kinder to ourselves:

Affirmations can help foster a sense of self-compassion and acceptance, which are important components of resilience in the face of anxiety. A big part of dealing with worry and anxious thoughts is accepting that they exist, and that they serve a purpose – often, to protect us from perceived danger or to help us feel more in control.

Acknowledging why they are happening can in turn help us feel more compassionate towards our anxious parts, whilst also encouraging us to take steps towards our goals even if anxiety tells us that we should not. By affirming one’s strengths, and ability to cope with challenges, we can build self-esteem and feel more empowered not to let anxiety control us.

Here are some examples I like to use: “I am brave and I am trying my best”, or “Anxiety makes me want to avoid things, but I choose to do them anyway”.

They help us self-soothe:

Affirmations can also be very effective for self-soothing. In times of intense anxiety, our brains go into “fight or flight” as they perceive danger, and our prefrontal cortex (the “logical”, rational brain) goes offline. Having a few simple sentences we can repeat to ourselves, can be helpful in those moments to calm ourselves down until we can feel better and think more clearly again.

“I am safe”, “I am protected”, “I will be okay” – are all things we crave to hear when we feel anxious, and we can do that through self-reassurance.

Incorporating such affirmations into relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation can also be a great way to calm the nervous system and find some peace during a stressful time.

These are some of the ways in which affirmations can be helpful for anyone struggling with anxiety, and wanting to build self-esteem, speak more kindly to their self, and improving mood.

They can be helpful for anyone, however, I particularly like to use affirmations with children and teenagers. The concept is easy enough to grasp, so that time can be spent with the child thinking of good affirmations that resonate with them and their own interests, needs and preferences.

This can be done creatively, they can be handwritten onto post-its, painted, voice-recorded, or printed and hung somewhere around the house.

Finally, children and teenagers in particular may often get encouragement and praise from other people such as parents and teachers – but the most important words will always be the ones we say to ourselves. Empowering young people to find ways to speak to themselves kindly, positively, and in a way that is self-reassuring and encouraging can have a huge impact on their sense of self and how they deal with anxious times.

Author: Valentina Sartore

Psychotherapist, MSc, BSc (Hons)