Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 8, 2004 Herald Journal

Discover your child’s unique identity

By JENNI SEBORA

Being a special education teacher has taught me many things, but most of all, that everyone is an individual with individual needs, wants, and gifts. Actually, that’s why I chose to teach in the area of special education.

It is important to respect each person as a human being and for all they are as unique individuals. As much as I have taught students with a variety of needs and skills, they have taught me a great deal more.

Everyone can be a contributing member to society and has something to offer the world, whether it’s working at a fast food restaurant, building houses, teaching, or being a dentist.

Everyone also wants to be accepted, challenged (whether they know it or not), treated respectfully, loved, and feel safe. These are basic needs, yet so important to a feeling of self worth and confidence.

In his book, “Family Matters,” Dr. Phil says that each child came into this world with unique skills, abilities, interests, and talents, all of which make up their genuine identity, their “authentic self,” as Dr. Phil describes it.

This self is not who you, as a parent or guardian, want them to be; it is who they are – uniquely skilled, gifted, and predisposed. This journey can be amazingly exciting as we discover our very own child grow right before our eyes.

Dr. Phil describes authentic as it pertains to children in that authentic children have a sense of hope, a feeling that today is as fun and exciting as yesterday, and that tomorrow will be as fun and exciting as today. Isn’t that great! These children have an excitement about what’s happening in their lives.

They feel good about themselves, whatever their skill may be. They have found interests that just “light them up” and make them “go.” Isn’t that what we all want for our children?

So it is important that a child’s family environment be his oasis.

In Dr. Phil’s book, he offers some suggestions to allow authenticity in our children to flow, and even overflow.

• We need to allow children to be themselves and who they are meant to be. The world and all its “happenings” can program children to make them believe what they are expected to be and do, rather than what they are meant to do.

• We should expose our children to different experiences, even if it’s something we, as parents, may not enjoy – whether it be music, art, drama, science, literature, travel, sports, etc. Allow them to experience and get their “hands dirty,” and maybe their feet, too.

Community education in the various communities offers many great classes that children and parents can participate in to try new activities. My son has taken a pottery class and a cooking class through community education, and both were very fun, hands-on activities.

My daughter, with her dad, also took a class that focused on a variety of stations and activities, including art, music, pre-academic skills, and large and small motor activities. The parents and children did these activities together, while it exposed the child to a variety of skills.

Next time you get a community education booklet, take a look through it. You will probably find some things your child would be interested in.

• Begin to recognize talents and inspire children to develop them. Maybe your child is visually skilled. Encourage this gift with things such as visits to art museums and gifts of art supplies and/or construction kits.

Try out the Children’s Museum in Minneapolis. It is a favorite of my children. There are many hands-on activities and things to explore there.

• Respect your child’s uniqueness, because everyone is different. Try not to compare one sibling to another.

• Catch your children doing something right. Too often, children hear the things they are doing wrong, and many times, when our children are doing something “right,” we are happy about it, but forget to acknowledge it.

Praising things your child is doing right can have a wonderful domino effect. Children are more apt to engage in positive behavior, or any type of behavior, when they receive attention for it and it is acknowledged.

“Thank-you for picking up your shoes.” They are more apt to pick up their shoes again.

Never, ever over schedule your child’s time with too many activities. A few months ago, PBS TV hosted a news forum in Minneapolis dealing with the issue of over programming children into too many activities. It also focused on families spending more time with each other as a family unit, and what a difference this can make in childrens’ lives.

It was indicated that the number one predictor and correlative of childrens’ success in school is having sit-down dinners with their families. We all know how difficult this can be, and maybe it can’t happen all the time, but it’s something that we should not lose the value of. Dinnertime is a time when families can be together, share, communicate, and acknowledge each other.

Over programming your child can backfire, and children may not know what to do with free-time. Allow children to be children, and allow them to do their “work,” playing and exploring.

• Be appreciative of what your children can do instead of looking at what they can’t do. Help them explore their talents and interests.

• Enjoy who they are as individuals. It is important to respect each child, and person for that matter, as a human being and all that they are as unique individuals. You never know what you will get back when you treat someone this way. It’s amazing!

Food for thought

When we are new, and when we are fresh and young, our hearts are very open in a way that they may never again be the rest of our lives – so that the impressions that are made on us and the good that is done for us, the kindness and generosity by which a child lives, are never forgotten. Never forgotten.

Nothing that you do for a child is ever wasted. Ever. You may never know exactly what that child saw, or how that child received it, but any gift you give a young person is permanent. It is more permanent than this building because it is then given to other people and is as permanent as we know.

– Garrison Keillor

Chilly weather books

And as the days and nights are getting chillier, here’s a couple of books to read with your child that will leave you feeling warm inside.

“The Kissing Hand,” 1993, and its sequel, “A Pocket Full of Kisses,” 2004, deal with helping a child (a raccoon in the story) face a difficult situation with the help of unconditional love from parents and loved ones.

The sequel is about two siblings, raccoon siblings, of course, that are not sure if there is enough of their mother’s “kissing hands” to go around. Mother raccoon assures them that she will “never, ever run out of kissing hands.” The books were written by Audrey Penn and published by Scholastic Inc.