When my son turned four, his grandmother gave him a puzzle for his birthday—one of those 60-piece rectangular deals with a picture of dinosaurs. My son loved puzzles and had outgrown the chunky wooden puzzles of his earlier years. Brimming with pride and excitement, he sat down and got to work.

After a while, though, my son suddenly threw the puzzle aside and growled through his tears, "I can't do it! It's too hard!" He was angry at himself.

Related: 3 essential parenting habits to build self-confidence in your child

I took a moment to gather myself before calmly bending beside him. I offered to work with him, but he stomped off in search of something else, his excitement gone.

That night, when it was time to get ready for bed, I joined him at the sink.

"You see that little boy there in the mirror?" I asked him. "That little boy is a puzzle master. I have seen him practice and practice and get better and better at puzzles. Puzzles are not easy, but he is a hard worker. When he makes a mistake, he learns from it. Mistakes are okay. They help him. He is a puzzle master."

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My son looked a little embarrassed and a little pleased at the same time.

"Tell him he's the puzzle master," I urged.

He blushed. "I'm the puzzle master," he murmured a bit sheepishly.

"Tell him mistakes help him learn."

"Mistakes help me learn," he repeated, his voice sounding a bit stronger.

"Tell him he's a hard worker."

"I'm a hard worker!" His chest puffed out.

"Tell him he can do it!"

"I can do it!" He was laughing now, standing tall and sticking his chin out proudly.

We repeated each of the phrases again and again, until they came easily and confidently. That night I heard him whispering to his younger brother, "I am the puzzle master, you know."

Related: 7 Montessori-inspired phrases to help build your child’s confidence

The next day, returning to the puzzle with a little encouragement and some more positive self-talk, I hoped that a switch had been flicked. I imagined him sitting down and magically completing the puzzle with ease. In my mind, we'd solved the problem.

Instead, there were no miracles. He still couldn't complete it.

What was different, though, was that he did not throw the puzzle or dissolve into a puddle of self-hating tears. When he was done working on it, he carefully pushed the completed section under his LEGO table and put the remaining pieces back into the box.

"I'm gonna save it for next time," he shrugged when he saw me watching.

My heart fluttered a bit with pride. This was the first time we'd used positive affirmations, but it wouldn't be the last.

What are positive affirmations?

Positive affirmations are a form of positive self-talk. When repeated often enough, this positivity can contribute to gains in self-esteem and overall positive thinking. When my son tells himself that he can work hard and overcome challenges, he replaces his negative thoughts with positive, happy thoughts that build self-confidence. If he says them often enough, he internalizes these positive things about himself, learning that he has the skills and knowledge to be capable, confident, and kind, even in the face of obstacles.

It's not just children who can benefit from positive affirmations. Practicing daily affirmations helps us all to replace the nagging voice inside that might tell us "I can't" with a positive mindset that tells us mistakes are OK and that we learn from them to overcome challenges.

Related: There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ self-esteem—so pour on the unconditional love, mama

How to use positive affirmations with your child

You can use affirmations with your child to encourage positive thought patterns and build a growth mindset. If your child comes across an affirmation that she truly does not believe to be true about herself, this is a great chance to have a conversation as a family around what that affirmation really means and whether it could become a self-truth over time. Affirmations work when they are practiced consistently, so create a routine around positive affirmations in your home and teach your child to practice it several times a day.

  1. To start, identify any negative self-talk that you'd like to change. In my case, I wanted to change my son's perception that he couldn't do his puzzle.
  2. Next, think of a positive way to change this thought process. I knew my son was frustrated because he made mistakes doing his new puzzle. He thought that mistakes meant he wasn't capable of doing it. I wanted him to know that mistakes are something we learn from and that, over time, his mistakes would help him learn to do the puzzle.
  3. Then, use the new, positive thoughts to create simple, positive affirmations that your child can repeat. Have your child practice these affirmations at least daily. Saying them into the mirror can make them especially powerful, and you can help by repeating them again to your child at bedtime.

Some families find it helpful to use affirmation cards so that remembering affirmations isn't part of the routine. Instead, your child can simply choose a card from the pile and read it to herself in the mirror. Families can even use these cards as jumping-off points for meaningful conversations together.

Related: Affirmations for the ‘good enough’ mom

Positive affirmations to say with your child:

1. I can learn from mistakes.

2. I can help others.

3. I can do new things.

4. I can learn how to do this.

5. I can help myself.

6. I can think of great ideas.

7. I can be kind no matter what.

8. I can make others feel happy.

9. I can overcome challenges.

10. I can find beauty in anything.

11. I can ask for help when I need it.

For 40 more positive affirmations, see the printable list on GenMindful.

A version of this post was originally published on GenMindful on October 12, 2020. It has been updated.

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