I believe that children arrive on the planet as perfect little creatures. I believe our best shot at reflecting the likeness of God occurs when we are children. Until the world convinces a child that he/she has a need for prejudice or fear or worry, those things do not exist. Children have the amazing ability to see each day’s goodness, possibilities, adventure and hope. I believe that we can nurture that goodness in our children. As mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, coaches and other caregivers of children, when we listen with a compassionate heart to a child who is angry or frightened or joyful – and I mean really listen: first, we get to know our children and we realize that they are not us and we are not them; second, we connect with our kids, and this connection is powerful! We help our children believe in themselves and equip them to go out into the world armed with good self-esteem, and I believe this creates a positive chain reaction.
My childhood was interrupted when I fell through a glass door, severing the artery under my left arm, almost bleeding to death at age five. Suddenly and forever, I no longer had the “problems” of the typical five-year-old – things like “Why is my stupid sister so mean to me?” or “I hate beets” or “What if my friends don’t have fun at my birthday party?” Within the span of a few seconds, I moved from five years old and carefree to “What just happened?” “I’m bleeding to death.” “I can’t feel my face.”
I feel sad about the childhood I lost that day. I wish I could protect the five-year-old who lost her innocence to a near-death experience that warm summer evening 37 years ago. But I can’t. So, I’ve tried to turn that loss into something good. The loss motivates me to protect all of the children in the world, but not in the way you might think. I can’t protect children from evil or danger. But I can make efforts to protect their ideas, thought processes and dreams. As adults, we have the power to help children realize their full potential as human beings and find meaningful places in the world.
Anyone who has spent time around a child knows that children ask tough questions. If we are honest, we know we don’t have all of life’s answers. Children know this and they are okay with it! Simply listening and engaging with children provides for them the atmosphere they need to thrive and grow. We will not always be around to solve our children’s problems. But when we give children our attention, give them our “selves,” they gain valuable self-worth and become great problem-solvers. When we are genuinely concerned about what concerns them, whether it’s a lost teddy bear or an “unfair sibling” or a question about war, we validate their feelings. And this validation is empowering to our children.
Sometimes I ignore the dusty furniture at home and plop down on the floor with my four-year-old for some Chinese checkers or a game of pretend school. I want her to know that I value her exactly the way she is at this very moment in time. My hope is that we will build on her sense of self-worth and she will then be able to infuse the world with her special gifts, whatever they may be.
I believe children with good self-esteem become adults with good self-esteem; and adults with good self-esteem are likely to treat others with compassion and respect, promoting harmony and unity. And the world improves.
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