Note: The Caption Contest is still going on…I am in the process of increasing the allowance of securing the judges.

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holding_hands It’s a hard world for kids; they come into the world completely helpless to parents who don’t know much about how to raise them.  Some parents have a better idea than others, but as a parent of four children I can say that the mystery far outweighs the understood.  As a parent you are in constant fear that somehow what you are doing is going to cause some unexpected harm for you children down the road.  I have no doubt that many of the things I have done will cause such harm.

But as many know, the world is far harder for some kids than the rest.  These kids don’t simply have frail and fallible parents, they have parents who don’t care or are even emotionally antagonistic toward them.  Perhaps these parents had similar examples when they were kids – I can’t compare my relatively good childhood experience to theirs – but regardless of the reason, many parents’ attitudes cause significant harm.  I see it regularly.

Since my job is to maximize the overall health of children, I see somehow helping this situation as of high priority.  But how do you communicate this?  How do you get people to see that they are harming their child with their attitude?  How do you avoid coming across as judgmental or patronizing?  My goal is not to preach a sermon and feel better myself, but to actually affect change.

Treasure My current approach to this problem is simple: I say nice things.  From the very start of a child’s life I do whatever I can to get the parents thinking as highly of the child as possible.  Whenever they come in for a visit I comment on how cute, advanced, or smart the child is.  I use words like “perfect,” “wonderful,” and “beautiful.”  I want the parents to know what a great gift they have as a child – and perhaps that feeling of pride they get will cause them to pay more positive attention.  You take better care of treasure than trash, and part of my job is to convince parents that they have a treasure.  I believe they all do.

This does not stop when kids get older.  Much of a child’s success depends on what the child thinks about him/herself.  A sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or predictable failure will cause them to seek comfort in drugs, sex, or overachievement; or worse, it will cause them to be full of bitterness and anger toward the world.  It is my job to be a positive voice in their life.  I do what I can to emphasize their success, using words like “smart,” “successful,” and “terrific.”  I want the child to believe that they are valuable in who they are – not in what they need to become.

Now, I don’t buy into the modern mantra of “you can accomplish anything you want as long as you believe in it.”  That is simply not true.  I could have never been a professional baseball player (too klutzy), or a neurosurgeon (too distractible).  That type of mindset sets kids up for shame – a lack of success in what they do will simply be evidence that they didn’t try hard or believe enough.  You are who you are – with unique strengths and weaknesses.  I think it is the job of us adults to encourage children to be themselves and embrace who they are.

Belief in yourself should focus more on yourself, and less on belief.  It is not the strength of the belief, but the object of it.  Believe in who you are and not who you would be better off being.  I think one of the keys to both happiness and success is to like the person who wears your skin.  Self-contempt does not push people toward improving themselves, it stifles ambition.  Self-belief – the realization that you as a person have value as you are – is, in my opinion, the best predictor of a truly successful and happy person.

I can’t change the world; but it is nice to be able to put in a few good words and perhaps make a parent believe in a child, and a child believe that they are truly worth having in this world.

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