We all have core beliefs, but what are they, exactly? Core beliefs are the lens through which we experience the world around us. They are our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. Since core beliefs are learned in childhood, this offers us an excellent opportunity to set our students up for success by teaching them about core beliefs early on and helping them to shift their negative stories into more positive, adaptive ones.
Core Beliefs in Action
Have you ever wondered why two people can experience the same thing but have very different reactions? What is “really” happening in any given situation gets filtered through our core-beliefs lens and then we create a story that we tell ourselves about what happened. If we have different core beliefs than someone else, this means our experience and our story about what happened will be different.
For example, a family in the neighborhood is having a birthday party and two children haven’t been invited. Child A has a core belief I will never belong. When they hear about the party, they may think: “Of course they didn’t invite me. I knew they didn’t really like me anyway. When it comes time for my birthday party, I’m not going to invite them!” Child B, who was also not invited, may have a different interpretation of the situation. If they have the core beliefs I am loveable and I belong, they may think: “ I wish I’d been invited. Maybe if I invite them to my birthday party, we can get to know each other better. I’ll invite a good friend over today because I always feel better after we play.” Both children may feel similar emotions like sadness or loneliness in this situation, but their core beliefs create very different stories. Adaptive core beliefs don’t necessarily shift our feelings, which are always okay just as they are, but they do shift how we interpret events and even what actions we take afterward.
While we can’t always change what is happening around us, we can tune into our core beliefs and shift the story we tell ourselves about what is happening, which not only feels better but also increases our inherent kindness, confidence, and resiliency. And the really good news is that we can help our kids tune into and name their core beliefs and also shift any negative ones into more adaptive ones.
Core Beliefs Ages and Stages in Education and Daycare :
Core beliefs are important at any age but are often being formed up in childhood. Different developmental stages can lead to different beliefs forming up at different times, and various environmental triggers can impact core beliefs as well. Here is a brief snapshot of core beliefs across age groups.
Babies learn about themselves and the world around them through experiences and through attachment with caregivers. If I cry will someone check on me? If I’m hungry will someone feed me? Do my needs matter? Am I safe? Am I loved? Babies learn quickly what to expect from the people and world around them and form neuropathways in this brain to solidify this learning. The brain is developing such foundational knowledge at this point that these beliefs and felt experiences can stay with people for a long time (we can also heal later on too though!).
During preschool years, children continue to learn through experiences as well as the messages they receive from caregivers, teachers, and people in their community. They are exploring different aspects of their personalities and testing out the types of responses they get. They are in a very egocentric state of development so they often fall into traps of attributions situations to themselves (ie. parent’s divorce, conflict in the family, etc.) this can lead to core beliefs that they are “bad” or things are “their fault.” Due to their often strong emotional reactions to things, little kids can sometimes elicit strong reactions from adults in turn which can lead to feelings of shame or worry about not being loved or parts of them not being welcome.
During elementary school years, children are often working to “master” skills. They want to run fast, climb high, read, write, learn math, draw-you name it, they are working at it. Sometimes this can lead to associating their abilities or skills with their worth (some of us adults do this too). Children can get discouraged sometimes if they don’t win or if they cannot meet the goal. Remembering that they are enough even when they make mistakes and they are lovable and worthy just the way they are is important through this developmental time.
As kids get older they also experience more peer conflict. Peer relationships can begin to impact feelings of belonging and worth in social settings too. Having a strong support system and foundation to navigate the rough waters of adolescence has been found to be a protective factor for children.
Practices to Support Positive Core Beliefs in the classroom
Planting the seeds for children to believe positive stories about themselves is a powerful proactive strategy that many parents enjoy.
- Build them into your environment: We think it’s a great practice to surround students with positive affirmations—on the walls, on their clothing, on their work, and in our verbal feedback.
- Spot opportunities: Statements like, “Wow, you finished your project. See, you can do hard things!” or “I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t make that goal in math today, but you worked hard and you are good enough just exactly as you are,” can help kids feel safe, seen, and connected.
- Write them down: Help your students make a list of core beliefs they currently hold about themselves, others, and the world at large. Some positive/negative examples would be: I belong/No one understands me, I can do hard things/I never figure things out, and I am supported/I am alone.
- Read Stories: Our books and affirmations are designed to reinforce positive core beliefs about themselves and the world. Reading stories, and asking questions to reflect can support this deeper message. [link to our website landing page perhaps?]
- Identify examples and emotions: Help your students identify a situation or hypothetical scenario in which they’ve interpreted what was happening through the lens of their core beliefs and what emotions they felt as a result.
- Listen closely: Listen for negative core beliefs that show up with your students and help them shift to more adaptive and positive ones.
- Get creative: Make an art project where you paint or draw the adaptive core belief with an expression that captures it, like: I have what I need, I am so loveable, or sensitivity is a strength. We also have printable positive affirmation posters [link] to support your creative work!
- Build Routines: Make the positive core beliefs a part of your classroom routine and look for places you and your students would like to include them, such as class meetings, transitions, and when talking about challenging situations.
Our Own Core Beliefs:
Adults hold core beliefs too. Sometimes core beliefs are so deeply held and even passed down from one generation to another, that we aren’t even aware of them. Try identifying some beliefs that you hold, and ones that you would like to let go of. If you feel discouraged at first when identifying any negative core beliefs, please know that it’s really normal and common to have them. In fact, most, if not all, people have negative core beliefs. Even though negative core beliefs may not be true, they can feel true. But what’s also true is that they can be changed.
Learn more about how each of our creature collections helps support adaptive core beliefs HERE.