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Self Fulfilling Prophecy

So, how many of you are bad at maths? I am bad at maths, my teacher told me so, and therefore I am. However I am able to budget, run my business and work out change when I help out at a shop and in the past when running a bar – so am I bad at maths, yes, absolutely, because if I was given a test I would fail.

I know that, it’s a fact. I have been told that. What I can do however is apply maths to my everyday needs and in that respect, am I good at maths? No, I am good with figures!

Self fulfilling prophecy is very straight forward and in simple terms it is; I am told I am bad therefore I am. I am told I am stupid therefore I am. I am told that I am a waste of space, therefore I am. I am told I am amazing therefore I am. I am told I am beautiful so I am.

It is all about feeling and being confident, or not. It is so hard to believe in yourself if you are told that we are not worth it. To help change the prophecy for individuals we must change the language we use. Many children and young people who enter the care system have major difficulties with self-esteem and frequently this is due to being told, or feeling that they are useless and have no value to anyone, least of all themselves.

As foster carers we spend a huge amount of time looking at ways in which we can boost self-esteem and confidence and mostly that is really hard work. What might help is to consider carefully the language that we use with children and young people, particularly when things are challenging and everyone is a little anxious, that is when we can make mistakes that result in three steps back when we were taking good strides forward.

When children and young people are challenging adults; they are sometimes told that they are difficult, naughty, irresponsible. In reality it is not the individual who is difficult, naughty, irresponsible, it is their behaviour. Once again by changing words we can ensure that the comment is not personal and therefore not damaging.

So, ‘I am finding your behaviour difficult’, rather than ‘you are difficult.’ ‘Your behaviour was irresponsible’, rather than ‘you are irresponsible’. When we give compliments then of course they should be personal, ‘you are so helpful’, ‘you are beautiful’, ‘you are very thoughtful’, all of those things that we would all like to hear.

There is a great book ‘Words that Change Minds (Mastering the Language of Influence)’ and one very simple change that is very effective is to swap ‘but’ for ‘and’ and so an example of this may be ‘you did really well in your spelling test today, but you need to work hard with your tables’ change to ‘you did really well in your spellings today and you are working hard with your tables’. Such powerful, small words, that we use every day.

A good definition of Self Fulfilling Prophecy is: ‘Any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person’s behaviour toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled. An employer who, for example, expects the employees to be disloyal and shirkers, will likely treat them in a way that will elicit the very response that he or she expects.’ (Business Dictionary.com)

One very interesting piece of research in America, was when two year groups were swapped with their new teachers. The A grade students were said to be lower grade students and the lower grade students were said to be the A grade students.

Because of the behaviours of the teachers, and their expectations, or lack of expectation, the prophecy prevailed. The lower grade students made great progress and the A grade students regressed. The same principle may well operate when you have your fortune told by a credible fortune teller.

If you truly believe that a certain event has been foretold and you believe it could happen, every time a choice turns up between two alternatives you are more than likely to take the one which you think will lead to fulfilment of the prophecy.

The book that I mentioned earlier suggests that words can change minds. I would like to suggest that words are so powerful that they can actually change lives, children’s lives.

So please use them carefully. Cathy Mayes, Simply Fostering Consultancy Associate, mailto:cathyfreelance15@outlook.com

References Business Dictionary.com Charvet. Shelle Rose (1997) Second Edition. Words that Change Minds (Mastering the Language of Influence)