Before a meeting with a child, prepare for it, be ready for it. Bring something to the encounter – an object, a thought, an experience – that shows you were thinking about the child beforehand. This achieves at least three positive self-esteem effects.
First, the something you bring provides an object upon which you both can focus, a meeting place for minds. When I worked with children as a tutor or therapist, I used to look for such a focus of interest. Janie, for example, was interested in the plight of the baby fur seals who are fast becoming an extinct species. I became interested in them from Janie’s telling about them. When I’d see an article on Greenpeace or something, which referred to the seal’s plight, I would bring it to her and say, “I thought you’d be interested in this.” Such a focus of interest usually got our sessions off to a good start.
Second, bringing something to the encounter indicates the child is thought of at other times. As a teacher and child therapist, I used to bring things I thought the children might find interesting. They could tell I was thinking of them at other times than our scheduled sessions because the objects I brought were not just things of the moment. Rather they were objects I knew would interest a particular child, motivate him or her and help our work together. These objects and the time I put in to finding them indicated clearly the children were on my mind at other times. They and their needs were a reality in my life.
Third, in the very object or item you bring to an encounter as a focus of interest, you recognize a certain uniqueness in a child. This item specifically was selected to be share. It was something you felt would amuse, interest, or excite them as individuals. As items to be shared I remember bringing a prism, a rock collection, an unusual kaleidoscope that belonged to my children, and a trick box, which could make penny disappear. Kenny in particular was fascinated with magic. I once found a book of simple magic tricks for him, tricks he could actually perform. His interest in magic was something uniquely his. I affirmed him by showing my interest in finding books on magic for him to explore and foster his interest. I also affirmed him by showing my interest in finding books on magic for him to explore and foster his interest. I also affirmed his valuing of magic, for I told him stories of magic shows I’d seen, and when he told me about magic shows he’d seen, I would listen.
Using this principle with my students provided a complementary self-esteem boost to my own children. In struggling to find an effective way of relating to a very shy, tiny, and with drawn little girl, I remembered how much my children enjoyed making nests for themselves and friends, using blankets, quilts, and pillows from my bed. One day at the clinic, I found some old blankets, quilts, and pillows and made a nest for the shy little girl in therapy. Because I had known the nest had been interesting for my children, I thought it might prove appealing to my tiny patient. And it did.
I made a point of telling her that watching my children build nests made me think she might enjoy it, too. This gave her a variety of affirming messages: that I thought about her outside the therapy room; that I thought about her even when I was with my own children; that I wanted her to have pleasant experiences; that I wanted her to have the same kinds of fun my children had.
The other side of the story, however, happened when I told my children how watching them had inspired me to try some of their creative play with a child patient of mine. When I told them how successful nest building had been, they felt very proud they had been able out of their fun and play to have inspired me and given a healthy experience to one of my patients. As far as I can tell, everybody’s self-esteem grew in that exchange.
After that, my children began to feel a part of my tutoring and therapy work. They would suggest games they enjoyed playing that I might want to share with my patients. They also recommended moves and books they liked. In doing this they felt important. Their self-esteem grew as they sensed they had a valuable contribution to make in my work with other children. They also knew they remained present to me while I was at work. Often I told them I remembered something they had said and had used it in a therapy session. From this they knew they were a constant resource for me in my work.
Self-Esteem Principle: Children’s self-esteem grows when they know adults share their focus of interest.
Children’s self-esteem increases when they know the relationship with you goes beyond the moments of encounter and that you carry their interests and presence with you.
Children’s self-esteem grows when their uniqueness is recognized and valued.