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Empowering Children in the Classroom
As a parent, educator, or caregiver, you have an important job of helping children grow into confident people who respect themselves and others. We know how hard the world can get, so making sure these children learn resilience and self-confidence early gives them the foundational strength of character that helps set them up for a life of success, no matter what they choose to do. That’s why empowering children is so important and why it’s built into the Wonderschool approach. You can empower children in many different ways, but here are some things to keep in mind and some tips to incorporate into your relationship with your child and all children.
Self-growth Through Choices
Part of empowering children means involving them in decision-making. This is also, arguably, one of the best ways to show a child respect. Taking steps to do so will mean the child begins to see themself as important. It also helps build a positive relationship of trust between you and the child, which is important in the teacher-student dynamic. By allowing children to make age-appropriate decisions, they are able to explore and try new things. This gives them the chance to learn more about themselves by getting familiar with their abilities and what they like. It also gives them control over things that are age-appropriate: would you like the blue cup, or the red cup? Would you like to hop to your bath, or walk to your bath? The bath isn’t an option, but how they get there can be.
Keep in mind that empowerment doesn’t mean free-reign. It also means making sure children understand the consequences. This means that you can allow a child to choose to do the right thing or not, making it clear what will happen if they make the wrong decision. For example, “.” “You can color on paper, or we can put the markers away.” Make sure to always offer choices where you’re comfortable following through. You may not want to say, for example, “You can color on paper, but if you color on the floor we’re never going to a birthday party ever again.” Your child will quickly learn that you don’t mean what you say, and empowerment will backfire.
Listen to Each Child’s Interests
Allowing children to explore themselves through their choices is something that can illuminate a pathway for how to direct your encouragement. For example, by allowing children to play, paint, draw, and create anything they want, you’re allowing them a voice to share something with you — so make sure you’re listening. Then, be ready to be supportive and encouraging of the child’s interests. Mirroring your child’s feelings and opinions on their work is a good way to encourage them to continue doing what they’ve come to enjoy.
This also means, however, keeping in check your own rigid ways of thinking and discouraging gender stereotypes. Anytime someone says, “boys will be boys,” or “that’s not very lady-like,” they’re reinforcing society’s stereotypes of how men and women should behave. That means if a young boy wants to learn to dance ballet, let him. If a young girl wants to play with dinosaurs and legos, let her. Your job is to be as open to possibilities as innocent children are — not allowing archaic norms to dictate their future.
Mind What You Say
If a child is nurtured and encouraged, they can learn to believe in their own capabilities. However, the simple yet hard truth is: children believe what you tell them. If a child is told that they’re incapable, they will believe it. Even the off-the-cuff remarks or things said as a joke can have a lasting impact. Think about it in your own life — perhaps for years you believed you couldn’t do something based on some belief that likely started with someone telling you so. To combat this, you have to be intentional about being positive, enthusiastic, and all-around mindful of your own words and actions.
Empowering Children Allows Them to Thrive
In this regard, empowering children doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s worth looking at how you speak to your child. Every time a child hears, “Look at your wild curly hair,” could be creating insecurity in them. If you see a child tripping over their feet and comment that they’ll never be a dancer, it may seem like an innocent quip, but that child could take your words to heart, believing that they should never consider taking up dancing. Seeing your own impact in this way requires a lot of self-awareness and a lot of energy spent making sure you’re encouraging and helping children love and celebrate who they are and understand that their mistakes don’t define them. Encouragement through your words helps a child feel validated, expanding their view of themselves, and potentially motivate them to go for hard-to-reach goals they’d previously thought impossible.