Building Affirmations to Promote Character

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by Ingrid Floyd

When I was a gymnastic teacher in my twenties at a gymnastics center, I used to instruct little girls on all sorts of tricks on the beam, bar and other gymnastics equipment. Gymnastics is not an easy sport to do. It is downright scary at times and takes courage to perform well. Just watch the Olympics on TV. So as one can imagine, overcoming fear was one of our focus at the gym. Often when I asked some young girls to spin on the beam, they usually answered with a stern no.

Therefore I learned early as an instructor to immediately respond, “The word ‘can’t’ is not in the English dictionary.”  As outlined in Principle 2 of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education — in developing character to include “thinking”  “feeling” and “doing” —  I encouraged these young gymnasts to not only perceive but take actions that strengthened their character.  I helped them identify character traits that allowed them to overcome the obstacles facing them. Then usually the gymnasts, knowing their efforts to get out of doing the stunt was futile would say, “Well, maybe I should try.” At which point they would succeed after trying over and over again. As suggested in Principle 2, I delved into helping students understand how core values helps them while assisting them to develop an appreciation and commitment to these values.

Affirmations—Keys to Character Building 

I also used affirmations frequently to get rid of the negative thinking in their minds by replacing it with positive self-talk. Books in the bookstore at the self-help sections are filled with virtues of saying good things to oneself. The writers teach that if you talk positively, you will think positively, and will treat others positively. It is good for schools and athletics to teach this in their character building programs. So often, kids show bad behavior because they think negatively about themselves and have a low self-esteem consequently.

Kendra Welborn, who worked with the Ailey Baltimore Summer Intensive Dance Camp relayed to me the positive use of affirmations. According to Welborn, the children learned new skills daily that impacted their team building and respecting one another’s differences through student facilitated discussions.

One thing that was done at the camp was the daily recitation of affirmations. Examples of these affirmations included: “I will not use the word can’t to define my possibilities”, “I will think before I act”, “I will listen to learn” and “I will treat others with courtesy and respect at all times.” As It turned out, that the campers told Welborn that these character development workshops on affirmations were their favorite part of the day! They enjoyed opening up to one another about their experiences from everyday life, realizing that many of them shared more similarities than differences. They were able to discuss various topics in small groups without talking over one another and settling their disagreements.

As these kids shared their experiences and learned to respect each other, they also accepted each other’s differences and abilities. In dance troupes, not everyone can dance as well. Some leap high while others cannot get off the ground. The kids after the character building workshops were willing to assist those who did not perform well, even to the point of staying after the camp and finding a buddy who was struggling to help them with the steps. It showed how important character building workshops and affirmations can be in the camp and school environment for sports.

Every sports team usually has that one child who is bullied because he frequently drops the ball in baseball, fumbles the ball in football, and loses the game for the class in kickball. How nice it would be if everyone just respected each other’s abilities and their own while cultivating the art of pep talk and listening. The books on the self-help shelves of Barnes and Noble on positive talk need to walk right on over into our children’s laps.

Let’s begin now.

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