“History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.”  Nelson Mandela

You might not realize it, but you play a VERY important role in the lives of children. 

“But I don’t have children,” you may say. Or perhaps “My children are grown and out on their own”. Think of it this way.  You may have nephews, nieces, or grandchildren. Perhaps you work with children, or you may have children living next door, or in your neighbourhood.  At the very least you encounter children when you are out and about, when you go to the shops, are in the taxi, in a place of worship, or at a friend’s home. 

So what messages are you sending to the children you encounter in your everyday life? I’m not just referring to spoken messages. What unspoken messages do you send? 

From the moment they’re born, children are ‘hearing’ messages from those around them.  As they become toddlers and young children, they are being acknowledged (or not) and being told through a variety of ways that they matter (or not).  They are continually being ‘told’ that the new skills they’re learning, such as talking or walking, or the way they’re behaving, or the choices they’re making, are worthy of celebrating on their journey to independence.

A child’s self-esteem affects their lives in so many ways

Children’s self-esteem and confidence grows when others pay attention to them, smile at them, and show they’re proud of them.  Every time they receive a ‘message’, that child’s sense of ‘self’ is being moulded, shaped, and impacted.

And a child’s self-esteem affects their lives in so many ways. It influences their attitude, energy level, their response to peer pressure; their ability to learn, grow, and be creative; relate to others; make healthy choices; problem solve; and reach their goals.

So, what can we, as adults, do to make a difference in the lives of the next generation?  As Madiba pointed out, history judges us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children – whether they are our own biological children or not. How can we find that healthy balance between being ‘helicopter’ adults – those who micro-manage every aspect of a child’s life – and being ‘neglectful’ of our responsibility to prepare young people to be the world’s future leaders, businessmen, teachiers, inventors, employers and employees?

Here are 7 simple ways you can help the kids in your life develop a healthy sense of self:
  1. Step back.  Step back and let kids take risks, make choices, solve problems and stick with what they start.
  2. Over-praising does more harm than good. They need to learn that becoming good at things takes time and effort.
  3. Let them take healthy risks. Kids have to take chances, make choices and take responsibility for them.  
  4. Let kids make their own decisions.  When kids make their own age-appropriate choices, they feel more powerful. Kids as young as two can start considering the consequences of their decisions. 
  5. Let them help around the house. Kids need opportunities to demonstrate their competence and feel that their contribution is valuable.
  6. Allow them to pursue their interests (fully). Encourage them to take on tasks they show interest in, then make sure they follow through to completion.
  7. What to do when children struggle or fail:
  • Don’t lose sleep over it
  • Make it clear that your love is unconditional
  • Make sure their goals are within reach, at a level appropriate for their ability
  • Offer appropriate praise

In a nutshell:

It’s important for us to help kids discover their own unique talents and qualities, and to value their own strengths. But it is also important to teach them that feeling special doesn’t mean feeling better than others.

Teach kids to work towards a goal and to have pride in their accomplishments. Provide them with opportunities for success.

Try, try, and try again. Encourage kids to try things their own way, face challenges, and take risks.

Be that adult who makes an impact. Be the adult who potentially changes that child’s life. 

Even if your encounters with children are brief, remember they can still have an enormous impact.  Be mindful of the children you encounter, particularly if they come from environments that may not include an adult who is intentionally building into their lives.  Take the opportunity to be that adult who makes an impact. Be the adult who potentially changes that child’s life.


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