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Want good marks? Positive self-talk is the key


London: Parents, take a note. Researchers have found that encouraging children to repeat words to themselves, that emphasise effort over ability could bring greater success.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, found that children who engaged in self-talk improved their math performance when the talk focused on effort, not ability.

"Parents and teachers are often advised to encourage children to repeat positive self-statements at stressful times, such as when they're taking academic tests," said study lead author Sander Thomaes, Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

"We discovered that children with low self-confidence can improve their performance through self-talk focused on effort, a self-regulation strategy that children can do by themselves every day," Thomaes said.

For the study, researchers examined 212 children in grades 4 to 6 (ages 9 to 13 years) from schools in middle-class communities in the Netherlands.

They chose this age because in late childhood, negative perceptions of competence on school tasks become increasingly prevalent.

The children were instructed to take a math test because math performance is compromised by negative beliefs about one's competence.

In the study, the children first reported their beliefs about their ability.

A few days later, they worked in their classrooms on the first half of a standardized math test. Immediately after completing the first half of the test, they were randomly assigned to silently take part in either self-talk focused on effort (e.g., 'I will do my very best!'), self-talk focused on ability ('I am very good at this!'), or no self-talk.

Afterwards, they completed the second half of the math test.

Children who took part in self-talk focused on effort improved their performance on the test compared to children who did not engage in self-talk focused on effort.

The benefits of self-talk were especially pronounced among children who held negative beliefs about their competence.

In contrast, children who engaged in self-talk focused on ability did not improve their math scores, regardless of their beliefs about their competence.

"Our study found that the math performance of children with low self-confidence benefits when they tell themselves that they will make an effort," said Eddie Brummelman, Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam,

"We did not find the same result among children with low self-confidence who spoke to themselves about ability. Self-talk about effort is the key," he added.

The authors noted that their findings apply only to children in fourth to sixth grades and may not be applicable to children of other ages.

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