The child’s thinking is neither more limited nor inferior to that of an adult.
It is different.
The child thinks with feelings and not with the intellect.
That is why communication is so complicated.
And speaking with children is a difficult art.
~ Janus Korczak
Beliefs are potent seeds that, once planted, grow roots quickly and become part of the long-term fabric of the psyche. Sometimes a child’s beliefs about him/herself get planted without our realizing it and much like being a (fake) redhead (take it from this one,) it is the hardest color to get and the hardest color to get rid of.
Disguised as a self-esteem builder, the praising phrase “good job” became popular many years ago and almost trendy to use in the worlds of parenting, teaching and general interaction with kids. We all want to support kids in our lives with positive reinforcement, right? I, myself said it all the time when I was teaching creative movement to kids years ago and now I cringe when I hear the words.
It is subtle, but go with me here…”good job” has a judgment of approval built into it, even if it cloaked in positive vibe. It will make a child’s ego feel praised which is different than genuinely feeling good about him or herSELF and the actual accomplishment ITself. So subtle is the difference, but one fosters a sense of Self which builds character, and the other strokes an ego which is like giving a child only carbs to eat and no veggies. I find that something like, “You did it!” will focus a child on the celebration of his or her accomplishment and not what I think of it. After all, do we want to boost a child’s pride or rather help him or her become viscerally imprinted with the belief (and experience) that they have been successful at accomplishing whatever it is to which the attention is being brought? I vote for viscerally imprinted… it lasts longer! (Owl and Tootsie Pop commercial plays in the background.)
On the contrary, a very subtle comment disguised as an innocent statement of fact or even a grown-up’s own belief unconsciously projected can often halt a child’s courage to try or feel fear that might only belong to the grown up. “That hill is too high to climb, that book is beyond your reading level,” or “you are a dancer not a soccer player,” might be disguised as statements of fact, but can instead be a life-time sentence to a belief that will require very little repetition to grow, grow, grow. Instead, given some water and sunshine, “That hill is high, but give it your best shot and I am right behind you if you slip…” will foster a child unafraid to fail with a strong sense of feeling safe enough in the world to try anything.
Have you ever noticed how a 2-3 yr old child likes to wrap his or her arm around your leg and look out at the world at the same time. There is no need to look at you, because your anchor is felt so strongly just by BEing there, that they feel free and safe enough to look around and take in all the activity that surrounds them, no matter how big or busy the world may appear.
In one of the stories in my book, MACARONI AND CHEESE, Vol 1, Sabrina’s mother says her hair is always messy and dinosaurs are supposed to be a certain color. Her teacher says her handwriting is scribbley and because she uses so much glitter, it gets all over her desk. So, Sabrina internalizes these things as beliefs about herself which makes her think differently about her dreams of world travel and writing postcards home. She takes her dinosaur art project for show and tell and dumps it in the trashcan, falsely reporting that she did not make anything for show and tell at all.
Beliefs are the most powerful seeds I know. It just doesn’t take much to plant either kind.
If there are children in your life, please plant with care.
About the Author:
By Stacie Isabella Turk, author of MACARONI AND CHEESE (anthology), Vol 1
Book of the Year 2013, Creative Child Magazine (self-esteem)