Make visiting special places a part of your relationship with children. Take them to a place out side the regular or prescribed structure. Take them to a place you say is special to you so that the memory of it will be of a special place shared.
When I tutored students, I would sometimes take a child to the nearby library, tell them this was the library I used, and explain how I would like to give them an opportunity to come there, too. When I said it my library, it brought about me to take me by myself to her library.”
When we were at the library, I’d say, “If you find a book you are really interested in, we can take it out on my library card.” This showed not only that I valued them enough to take them to my library, but that they were so special I would let them use my card. It was such a little thing for me to do and such a special thing for them.
By the way, I never cross-examined them about book they took out. I never asked if they had read them. Checking up on their performance was not on my agenda. My purpose in taking them to the library was to help build a relationship of closeness and trust between us. I tried never to set them up in a situation where they could feel there were unclear expectations and that they had somehow failed me. Dealing with expectations will be treated more fully in chapter 3 on nurturing success, but I feel it’s important at least to mention it here. With library books I did have one expectation I made very clear: that we return the books to the library, which we did cooperatively by my asking them for the books in plenty of time.
In trying to build self-esteem in children using this principle, it produces powerful effects if you can focus on one child at a time. In tutoring and in therapy work, this usually possible. With teacher and mothers it is often difficult, but it can be arranged. For example, mother can prescribe certain times to be alone with each child so that opportunities for one-to-one closeness are encouraged. When I taught in a classroom, I discovered there are ways to work one-to-one with children who need special help. Such ways can be as simple as asking a child to help you carry something to the storeroom or to the office; sitting down next to a child for a few minutes to discuss his or her artwork or a story; falling into step with a child and clearly choosing to walk with him or her to some destination; sharing your lunch with a particular child. When a child accepts a sharing experience with you, the child almost has to accept himself or herself as having special and unique value, at least during the time of the shared experience.
My daughter Wanda and I went together to visit an old inn in Oxford, Maryland. I had heard about the place and had gone there by myself some months before. In telling Wanda about it, she became interested and wanted to go there, too. It had been a special place for me and I was delighted to share it with her. It was important that I made reservations long in advance so we could have the room we wanted. I found that if you’re going to take the time to share something special, also take the time to make as sure as possible things will be the way you would like them to be. When Wanda and I went to Oxford together, it proved to be a very intimate, growing-together time for us.
The self-esteem practice of taking children to special places is one that children pick up on and use themselves. I remember taking my daughters to a place on Cape Cod that we came to call the Hidden Garden. This was an old-fashioned garden surrounding by a white picket fence behind an antique shop. I had enjoyed sharing this secret garden with them. What I discovered later was it became the special place to which they took their friends. They had learned sharing a special place, like special gift, builds self-esteem.
Another thing which sharing a special place brings is esteem for the relationship. Each time you do something that builds self-esteem in a child, you are also building esteem for the relationship between you. In other wards, the relationship develops a clearer self-image and its value becomes enhanced.
I find very precious those shared experiences my children plan to pass on to their children. My children often remind me of the times used to take them outside on warm summer nights to look at the stars. We lived in the country then. We’d sit wrapped in blankets against the coolness of the night air. We could hear frogs croaking in the pond. Whenever we saw shooting stars we would make wishes.
My children vividly remember those nights as very special shared occasions, and they talk about wanted to share night stars with their children. They talk about it as a kind of gift-experience they hope to pass on through generations. I had learned it in my own childhood. I remembered how watching stars generated a very magical kind of feeling, and I wanted my children to be aware such wonderful things were here in the world waiting to be experienced and shared. If you have places and experiences that are special to you, please share them with your children. Whether it’s nature, music, dancing, drama, art, or science, please pass on your gift-experiences to the next generation.
When you share your special places and experiences with children, you invite them into your world in a unique way. Sharing says to them, “I think you are not only unique and valuable to me, but you are also someone like me who would enjoy this experience. I care about you in a way that makes me want to delight you.” In response to this, the child’s self-esteem grows and the child says, in effect, “Your wanting to delight me must mean I’m worthwhile to you.”
Self-Esteem Principle: For children to accept a unique experience with an important person is to accept themselves as important and valuable.