Throughout time, catchphrases have dominated the spaces children inhabit, seeping into their subconscious – we hope – for the better: honesty is the best policy! The early bird catches the worm! More haste, less speed!
In the best schools I’ve visited and worked in, leaders have thought carefully about the messages we want children to internalise: “work hard, be nice;” “team beats individual;” “climbing the mountain to college.” One of my favourite primary schools sets a Christopher Logue poem to music and has the children sing this at every assembly:
Come to the edge
We might fall
Come to the edge
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came
And we pushed,
And they flew.
Short, snappy slogans or songs are memorable and seep into the subconscious; it is no wonder so many schools think carefully about their messaging.
I used to refer to this practice, with love, as “positive brainwashing.” As schools and societies, we have a duty to think through the messages we want our children to leave us believing.
I’ve written before about the omnipresence of the enchantingly bizarre Goodnight Moon. Well, a book has come in which has exploded bedtime. By which I mean, has superseded this absolute classic to be the book our son hears last thing every night before heading to sleep. That book is Jessica Hische’s Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave.
The entire work is a masterpiece, but more than that, it’s a parent’s entire compendium of the positive brainwashing you want to enact on your child. Did I say brainwashing? I meant affirmations.
Affirmations, apparently a child of ancient Eastern philosophy, are phrases that provoke a positive state of mind. Every night before he sleeps, my son now hears affirmations like: “it doesn’t matter if I win as long as I have fun”; “tomorrow I’ll be curious; please teach me something new”; “there’s nothing I can’t do” – among others. Who knows whether these affirmations will have an impact on his sense of self-worth for the long-term, but it definitely makes me mindful of the messages he is receiving every day from his family.
Schools which create a great culture for their young people have thought carefully about the messages children hear every day. We only have a few years with our young people, and there is so much to do and learn in those years. But a few well-chosen affirmations can both guide young people to be their best selves and push them to make their positive mark on the world. What are the affirmations we want to send children out into the world believing?