Children are our Future: 5 Strategies for Developing Emotionally Healthy Children

 

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Valtreasa Tolliver-Cook, Ed.D, ACSW, MSW, LSW

One of my favorite songs of the 1980’s is “The Greatest Love of All” popularized by Whitney Houston. What I like most about the song is the beginning lyrics: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.” If the lyrics to this song are true, then: Who is responsible for teaching them well? Who is responsible for helping them find their way? Who is responsible for showing them all the beauty they possess inside? Who is responsible for giving them a sense of pride? The answer is quite simple, we are!! By we, I am referring to families (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, fictive kin, and extended family members), educators (teachers, administrators, assistant teachers, counselors, social workers, and other school staff), and community members and leaders.

In the words of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” In addition, former President John F. Kennedy stated, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Therefore, it is imperative that we work together to prepare children for the future. In fact, increasing amounts of research supports the value of families, educators, and communities’ working together to support student learning and development. Children benefit when all of the adults who care for them work together, simply because it is our responsibility to guide and direct children the way they need to go.

The children who you see, care for, and work with today, will eventually become the doctors, lawyers, preachers, teachers, leaders, and caretakers of tomorrow. What can we do to prepare them for the future? What can we do to be sure they are equipped with the skill sets and the mindset they need to take on the many challenges and opportunities that the future will bring? Life today is exponentially more complicated and challenging than it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago, and even 20 or 10 years ago. I can’t begin to imagine how complicate and challenging the future will be.

Here are a few things that we can do as families, educators, and community members and leaders to prepare children for the future:

  1. Help children develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. According to the website healthychildren.org, self-esteem is shaped not only by a child’s own perceptions and expectations, but also by the perceptions and expectations of significant people in the child’s life — how the child is thought of and treated by his/her family, educators, and community members and leaders and most importantly their peers. For healthy self-esteem, children must feel secure about themselves and their future. When children feel good about themselves, it sets them up for success. Positive feelings like self-acceptance, self-love and self-confidence help children try new challenges, face difficult life challenges, cope with mistakes, and never give up. To help children develop a sense of healthy self-esteem, families, educators, and community members and leaders can do the following:
    1. Show them love. Let them know that they are loved, not just for what they do, but for who they are. Make it a habit to show love every day, consistently. Remember love is an action verb!!
    2. Talk to them and most importantly listen to them. Sometimes, we are so busy giving directives and talking at them that we fail to talk to them and listen to what they have to say. Children have a lot to say and it’s important to them and it should be important to us, too.
    3. Let them know that they are special. It is not to say that they are more special than anyone else. It simply means teach them that they are unique and they should embrace their uniqueness. Being different is a good thing. It’s about loving who they are.
  2. Encourage life-long learning. Learning is a great activity. Learning is an important part of living. It helps children expand their viewpoint. Life-long learning opens the mind, increases wisdom and creativity. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life and impact the lives of other. Henry Ford once said “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” To encourage life-long learning families, educators, and community members and leaders can do the following:
    1. Inspire them to read, read, and read. Reading teaches children about the world around them. Through reading, they learn about people, places and events outside their own experience. They are exposed to ways of life, ideas and beliefs about the world, and they learn how the past and the present influences the future. Motivate them to ask questions. Operative learning requires active participation. Children are curious human beings. Asking questions motivate children to seek out knowledge that aligns with their interests and can therefore foster a lifelong love of learning.
  3. Help them discover and explore their talents and abilities. According to the website kidsource.com, all children have special talents and abilities that need to be noticed and nurtured. Children’s talents should be developed as early as possible so they can achieve their full potential. Taking pride in their talents and abilities helps children do their best. To help children discover and explore their talents and abilities, families, educators, and community members and leaders can do the following:
    1. Have high expectations, but make them realistic.
    2. Find out what they want to do and encourage them to do it. Teach children to trust their intuition and believe in their capabilities.
    3. Create and expose them to a wide range of experiences. Perhaps, these experiences may trigger interests, hidden talents, and abilities. Help them find healthy outlets for their talents.
  4. Help children recognize and develop their strengths. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. All too often, we spend too much time and energy thinking about and trying to fix what we are not so good at. We concentration on the weaknesses rather than accentuate the strengths. More time and energy should be spent recognizing and developing strengths. All children have strengths that need to be discovered, valued and used. When children use their strengths, they develop into adults who are not only respectful, but are also respected for who they truly are. As families, educators, and community members and leaders, we have a powerful tool to help children lead happier, healthier, more fulfilling and successful lives. We must talk to children about their strengths. Talking to children about their strengths will help to build their confidence and help them to flourish, ultimately prepare them for what lies ahead. Tell them what they are doing well.
  5. Last but not least, perhaps the most important thing that we can do to prepare children for the future is teach, demonstrate, and praise respectful behavior. The best way to teach and demonstrate respect is to give respect. Respect children, they are human beings with feelings and emotions, just like you and I. Children learn from their environments. We must be good role models, set good examples. Teach them to say, please, thank you and excuse me. Trust me good manner and good character will open doors for you in life. I’m a witness!! Teach them to apologize when they are wrong and when possible correct their mistakes. There’s a big world out there just waiting for our children, we must prepare them for what lies ahead. Remember it is what we do right now that makes a difference in the future!! So, let’s all do our part and “Teach them well, show them all the beauty they possess inside, and give them a sense of pride to make it easier.”

 

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