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6:08 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Barnes: Thoughts on being a child

Rummaging through some old studies I have collected, I found one that deserves a revival. In a study of school teachers, it turned out that when they held high expectations of their students, which alone was enough to cause an increase of 25 points in the students’ IQ scores.

Whoa! That is impressive, to say the least.

But the teachers I know and love are aware of these data. It’s young parents who need to understand and grasp the significance of this study.

And if I were asked to communicate with parents—let us assume I have been—I would begin my peroration by asking them this question: “Would you like to be your own child?”

This may be the most important question parents of young children can ask themselves.

If their response is negative, they need to consider the impact they are having on their child. Chances are the youngster is unlikely to possess self-esteem or self-confidence. Nor are they likely to be provided the incentives or receive the encouragement to do their best to excel in school or in life.

You see, each parent is a teacher; arguably the most important one the youngster will ever have. From birth, infants are sensitive to their environment. They are held in tense or tender arms, react to harsh or kindly voices, and respond to smiles or frowns. Each child slowly builds a self-concept while reacting to people close by and the messages they convey. Seemingly intangible elements make a tangible difference.

It is these collected messages that begin to answer the child’s question, “Who am I?” As others see and treat her, she forms the beliefs about herself that become her self-image. She calls this package “me.” She borrows the views of others and makes those views her own.

If a child learns through words, body language and treatment that her parents feel she is unwanted, an inconvenience, bad, naughty, selfish, mean, sinful, she will build a picture of herself that fits these messages.

If a child receives positive feedback and encouragement, she builds a positive self-image.

Experts in child behavior tell us that children fall into three levels on the self-esteem scale. High self-esteem children have self-confidence. Mid self-esteems live with self-doubt, often trying to prove their value to self and others. Type A personalities, overachievers and perfectionists are on this level. Low self-esteem youngsters are convinced of personal inadequacy. Drug use, overeating, gambling and promiscuity are choices that numb pain and keep their loser belief alive. They live with self-hate.

A number of school districts in our nation have initiated self-esteem programs. If a child is not at a high self-esteem level and her parents want her to be, the good news is that a negative level can be improved by changing the messages the child receives.

Dorothy Briggs, author of Your Child’s Self-Esteem, tells us that high self-esteem rests on two inner beliefs: “I am unconditionally lovable and I am competent. I can handle myself and the world. I have something to offer. I count.”

The writings of Briggs and others in the field of child behavior are the kinds of messages parents should hear and act upon. Good parenting includes providing love and encouragement at home and support of teachers to enhance each child’s self-esteem at school.