August 21, 2018
According to the National Science Foundation, humans have somewhere between 12,000 and 70,000 thoughts each day. Sad to say, up to 80 percent of those thoughts are negative — but we can do something to change that. Educators hear a lot about positive youth development, character education, positive behavior interventions, social emotional learning and positive program climate. Programs that formalize these practices can contribute to building confidence, resilience and happiness for the youth we serve. With or without a formal program, you and your out-if-school time program can immediately implement practices that will start harnessing the power of positivity.
In Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help, a little girl learns this mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” This is exactly the kind of positive self-talk we want to encourage in our students. How often have you heard a student say, “I’m not good at…” or “I can’t…”? Make a conscious effort to help them rephrase those thoughts more positively: “I’m getting better at…” or “I’m learning how to…” When you take the time to restate something in a positive way, you help a child train their brain to think more positively. You might ask students to develop a positive mantra for the program and individual mantras for themselves. Devote a quick minute each day to repeating those mantras and further developing their positive self-image.
Students can get caught up in the game of comparison: someone else has fancier belongings or is more skilled at a sport. Help students realize their natural abilities and identify their strengths. Consider having students start gratitude journals. Processing thoughts for a few minutes a day can build important cognitive skills, and capturing them in a journal develops writing skills. You could start a gratitude sharing practice during snack time. Ask students what they are thankful for that day or what they are looking forward to in the program. Helping students learn to identify and focus on positive things in their world builds a positive world view.
How many complaints do you hear in a typical program day? It’s time to issue a no complaining challenge! We can help students — and ourselves — learn how to respond more positively and effectively to whatever life throws at us. In his book, A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen describes his complaint-free challenge. He uses a 21-day cycle, during which participants wear an arm band and move it from one arm to the other each time they complain. This creates a physical reminder to think more positively. You might have your students create positivity friendship bracelets and try the same challenge. The goal is to keep the bracelet on the same arm for a full 21 days. Students can remind each other not to complain and help each other rephrase thoughts to be more positive.
Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” You can help students change how they view themselves and their world, and lower the percentage of negative thoughts in their day. Try one of these positivity practices and watch the impact on your students and the overall climate of your program. For a ready-to-use professional learning session on positive youth development, download this Y4Y Training to Go. For a quick one-page reference, also grab The 5C’s of Positive Youth Development.