TEACHING THE JOY OF INDIVIDUAL CONFIDENCE and UNIQUENESS
I had a favourite professor in graduate school, a man whose every move transmitted a certain, “I’m okay, you’re okay” joy to all who were around him. He had remarkable patience. When a student could not seem to grasp a point, he would not chide or criticise; instead he would compliment the student on some other point where he was strong.
He couldn’t sing or speak well. In fact, he seemed to have few particular abilities, yet he always seemed totally self-confident–not cocky or overbearing, just quietly of the belief that he could discuss anything, do anything.
I did well in his class, in part because I found him so interesting, and by the end of the year I knew him well enough that we had lunch together once in awhile. I asked the source of his confidence. He said there were two elements, the first of which was his faith. He expressed to me, with no hesitation or inhibition, his belief in a higher power to whom he could pray and who he felt would guide and nudge and help him through life.
“What is the second thing?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “I’m a little like the great craftsman who made the finest violins in the World. Stradivari used to say, `God can’t make a Stradivarius without Antonio Stradivari.’ I have certain gifts, and I think I have discovered what most of them are. I am sufficiently confident in two or three basic areas that I feel equal to anyone.”
I’ve thought a great deal about what he said. His joy was confidence. His confidence was a combination of faith and gifts he had discovered. I realised that everyone can have both, that no one is precluded from faith, & no one is without particular, unique gifts.
Children can feel the joy of individual confidence and uniqueness. This fact is often illustrated by children themselves at our experimental Joy School. Early in our first year, while we were dealing with the physical joys, I had an experience that taught me something about the joy of individual confidence. A group of children were dancing, and the teacher was showing them how to skip. I was sitting at the side, observing. There were about ten children, four of whom just could not grasp the technique or coordination of skipping. It intrigued me that three of the four looked dejected, embarrassed and upset because they couldn’t do it. Each of the three, in his own way, stopped trying: One cried, one walked out and one started acting silly and boisterous to distract attention from his failure. The fourth little boy showed absolutely no embarrassment or concern or self-consciousness for not being able to skip. He kept watching, kept trying, kept failing, kept watching, kept trying. When the exercise was over, I asked him some questions:
“Do you like to skip?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it very good.”
“Well, did you wish they’d stop skipping and do something you were better at?”
“No, because I want to learn how.”
“Do you feel bad because you can’t skip?”
“Because I’m better at other things.”
“Mommy says I’m good at painting pictures.”
“And I’m ‘specially good at keeping my baby brother happy.”
“I see, Jimmy. Thanks for answering my questions.”
“That’s all right. Don’t worry; some day I’m going to be good at skipping, too.”
An amazing interchange for a four-year-old! But the principle behind it is not particularly amazing–it’s quite natural. A person who is secure in the knowledge that he is good at certain things can much more easily accept the things he is not good at.
Obvious, open, unconditional love. A child who feels an inalterable parental love has a built-in foundation for confidence. He knows no failure, no mistake, will rob him of that love and family acceptance. Tell him of your consistent love.
Know each child well as an individual. You can’t help a child build confidence around his inherent gifts and talents unless you come to know what those gifts and talents are. Two ways to learn: (1) In private chats with the child, time spent together watching and appreciating; and (2) in organised time, spent as husband and wife, discussing each child, sharing perceptions, taking notes, discovering together more about the personality and individual character of each child.
Genuinely respect each child and his own gifts. Our children are human beings, deserving not only our love but our respect. With this thought in mind, sometimes it becomes a bit easier to (1) show an added measure of faith in them after any kind of failure; (2) discuss our own failures with them and tell them what we learned from each; (3) praise their accomplishments lavishly and honestly, particularly accomplishments in areas where we perceive special aptitude; and (4) never criticise or tear the children down personally. We should criticise instead the bad things they have done, making sure they still know our total love for them. Never criticise in public–“praise in public, correct in private.”
Independence, self-reliance, responsibility at an early age. Confidence and its joy tie directly into being able to do useful things. Each child should have a job in the family, for the family–particularly daily or weekly jobs–for which he is praised & made to feel very able and very important, very much a part of the family.
Help the children to see what their own unique gifts are–and that these gifts are as good as anyone else’s.
1. The “one thing I like about you” game: Sit five or six children in a circle, with one in the middle. Let each child say something he likes about the one in the middle, such as “One thing I like about Tommy is that he can tie his own shoes.”
2. Individual profile charts: Trace a profile from each child’s shadow on a poster. Then, under each profile, write in the eye colour, hair colour, sex, age, position in the family, and what the child is good at. Put the posters up on the wall and let each child take pride in his uniqueness.
Special nicknames for each child. A similar feeling of specialness comes with an affectionate nickname, especially when it is used exclusively by one parent. To Daddy, Saren is “Princess,” Shawni is “Pixie,” Josh is “Herkimer,” Saydi is “Sugar Plum” or “Tater Tot,” Jonah is “Boomer Bumpkin,” Talmadge is “Mudgie” and Noah is “Nobie.”
Mommy & Daddy dates. Set aside a special time each week when there is a one-to-one relationship between mother or father (or both) and one child. These occasions may sometimes take planning, and other times they may consist simply of maximising the moment.
“Empty Books.” A dear friend mentioned at the time our first two children were still tiny that she got a great deal of satisfaction from buying an “empty book” (well-bound with empty pages) for each child when he was a baby and recording special events and character changes in the child’s life as he grew. The ultimate plan was to present it to him on his wedding day.
We have followed her example and have found many benefits that we hadn’t planned. The children know we are keeping the books and they feel a great sense of uniqueness and pride in knowing that even though, for the most part, the contents are secret until their wedding day, they themselves are individuals in their parents’ eyes. They see us writing about those special events and are secretly thrilled that we take time for just them. Also, in reading back over events from these first few years, we realise how easily we forget those momentous moments (birth, toddler’s mischief, starting school) in a child’s life unless they are recorded. They’ll make great “vicarious journals” and will be lots of fun for our children’s children to read some day. Reading back through them is also, for us, a chance to evaluate the progress and needs of each child.