June 21, 2018

Kids in the Canyon: So Many Strengths


I recently read a blog post from Brené Brown (http://brenebrown.com/my-blog/) about social messages that fuel shame in children.

I was especially touched by the video link to the new documentary, The Mask You Live In, by The Representation Project (http://therepresentationproject.org/mask). Listening to the boys and men in the movie trailer describe their feelings growing up brought to me an awareness of the power of the words that we use when speaking to children.

The second trailer, related to Jeane Kilbourne’s work about the influence of media on the development of self-worth in girls (http://www.jeankilbourne.com/), was the flip side of the coin.

Ms. Kilbourne’s research, conducted 30 years ago and then repeated more recently, demonstrates that little has been done to end the objectification of women in advertising. The negative effect this has on girls has been well documented.

As parents and teachers we are usually in the mode of helping children learn, improve and grow. We focus on the areas that need improvement, behaviors that need shaping, academic skills that are lacking or not quite where they should be or talents that need perfecting. How does this impact our children? When so many adults are scrutinizing them with critical magnifying glasses, how are children able to persevere?

When children are small, they are a bit oblivious to the scrutiny of the adults in their lives and they live in the moment generally unconcerned with the opinion of others. When children enter school, however, a shift happens and they are suddenly aware of their place in a much bigger petri dish. There is a classroom filled with other children functioning at different developmental levels and a span of ages from a few months to closer to a year. This is some stiff competition! To top it off, there is a teacher overseeing it all, who assesses the children and even if the scores are not public in the younger grades, the feeling of struggling with a particular academic skill are evident to the children and competition increases with each grade level.

As children get older, there is another factor that becomes more powerful than the adult perspective of the child’s success—the opinion of their peers. This becomes so powerful once the double-digits are reached that some children become obsessed with trying to live up to imagined judgments. The media is always present, ready to show shining, airbrushed examples of perfectionism that our children (and ourselves for that matter) can never live up to and the sum of the Super Three—parents/teachers, peers and media—can destroy all of the nurturing and self-esteem building we pour into our children.

How can we, as adults who genuinely care about children, help our children stay strong, stay true to themselves and learn to tune out or intelligently discuss the opinions of the Super Three?

Here are Three Super I­­deas:

Focus on Strengths
—Children spend so much of their time looking at things they need to improve on that it is easy for them to overlook the areas in which they demonstrate a talent. Talk with children about what they think they do well, skills they have, personality traits that they like about themselves. Focus on their own opinions of themselves, not what other people think about them or have told them they do well. Help children generate a list of all of the traits they like about themselves. Challenge them to get to 100 or more! If they struggle to create the list, you can be a catalyst, supplying a couple of ideas to get them started. The list can be ongoing and added to daily.

They can keep it in a note on their phone, a journal or a page kept on their desktop, and write items from the list on their bedroom or bathroom mirror in Dry Erase marker.

Teach “Self-Talk” to Children—Self-Talk is an internal dialogue with oneself. Teaching children to be true to their own desires, passions and ideas is an important skill that they can carry into adulthood. Help children learn to create short phrases, or mantras, that they can write in a journal, say aloud to themselves or think silently when they need a boost.

Teaching children to be their own biggest fan can counteract the blows to the ego often faced in the sensitive pre-teen and teen years and helping children learn to be okay with who they are can ­help them stand strong in the face of pressure from peers, overly critical adults and the media.

Teach the Vision Board Process—As adults, many of us use the vision board process to clarify goals for the New Year when starting a new project or a personal challenge. Children can learn this process and use a vision board to show traits they like about themselves and to set goals for new accomplishments. To create a vision board, you will need a piece of poster board (about 9 by 14 inches), magazines, scissors and glue.

My family enjoys this fun activity each New Year’s Day, but anytime is a ­great time to create art. Creating a collage of inspiring words and pictures is a very therapeutic process and the vision board can be looked at daily as a practice of self-love.

If you have questions, comments, please e-mail: ­amyweisberg@completeteach.com, with “Ask Amy” in the subject line. I would love both feedback and questions!

Amy K. Weisberg, M.Ed., has been a teacher for 35 years and has been teaching at Topanga Elementary Charter School for 19 years. ­Her business, CompleteTeach, provides support for students, parents and teachers. Her book, “How to Have the Best Super-Duper School Year Ever!” is available on Amazon.com.

“Kids in the Canyon,” is dedicated to parents and kids, offering them tips for the month ahead and great activities for kids in the Topanga area.