Typically, children who have a bad reputation for themselves do not perform well in school. According to a new Dutch study, encourage children with low self-esteem to speak favorable and encouraging words to themselves (like “I’ll do my best!”, “I can do it”) could improve their academic achievement.
In fact, according to the research results, children engaged in this type of “personal conversation” have improved their performance. in mathematics, but only when the inner discourse has focused on the “effort” and not on skill.
The study, published in Child Development, was led by researchers from Utrecht University, Leiden University of Applied Sciences, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Southampton.
“Parents and teachers are often advised to encourage children to repeat positive affirmations in stressful times,” said Sander Thomaes, professor of psychology at Utrecht University, who led the study. “But until now, there was no confirmation that this actually favored children’s outcomes. After the study we found that children with low self-esteem can improve their performance through a internal dialogue focused on effort. It is a self-regulation strategy that children can do on their own every day ».
The researchers looked into 212 children (aged 9 to 13) in community (middle class) schools in the Netherlands. They chose this age because negative perceptions about school skills become prevalent in late childhood. Additionally, the children were asked to take a math test mainly because math performance is often compromised by negative beliefs about their ability.
The children first told the researchers their beliefs about their proficiency in mathematics. A few days later, they worked in their classrooms on the first part of a standardized math test. Immediately thereafter, they silently participated in effort-focused speeches (repeating eg “I’ll do my best!”) And skill-focused speeches (“I’m very good at this!”), Etc. Subsequently, they completed the second half of the math test.
It turned out that the children who took part in the internal dialogue focused on effort have improved their performance in the test compared to children who did not engage in effort-focused internal dialogue. The benefits of internal dialogue were particularly pronounced among children who held negative beliefs about their competence. In contrast, children who engaged in skill-focused personal conversations did not improve their math scores, regardless of their beliefs about their proficiency.
“Our study found that the math performance of children with low self-confidence becomes better when the little ones repeat that they will make an effort,” he explains. Eddie Brummelman, professor at the University of Amsterdam, co-author of the study. “The chat about effort is the key.”