As parents, teachers, or caretakers of young children, we all want to find the most effective ways to promote and foster children’s sense of well-being and confidence and to help them see the good and inherent value in those around them.
Feeling Loved and Important
Children first develop awareness and attitudes about themselves based on interactions with family and those who care for them. When we respect children, listen and speak kindly to them, and allow them to make appropriate choices, we are demonstrating to them that they are important to us and that they have value as a person, independent of anything they have learned or achieved. A child’s sense of self develops over time and is largely influenced by their experiences in their first years. When children feel safe and protected, they can feel confident and willing to try new things without fear of reprisal. They can feel free to question, express their needs and views, experiment with language and new skills, develop a positive perspective on life, and grow a sense that they are valued by those who are close to them.
Another source of confidence and self-worth for children comes through things they try, learn, and achieve. Children learn many new skills and behaviors in these early years. You can help set the stage for them by providing materials, talking to them, guiding their play, and providing opportunities for structured and unstructured learning as interests arise. Being positive in your encouragement and applauding their efforts as well as their successes can help them continue to learn through setbacks, frustrations, or failure.
Children can also gain a sense of confidence through developing a positive and optimistic outlook. You can be an example to them as you calmly face your own challenges. You can help them separate their value as a person from the things that they can or cannot do. You can encourage them and let them know that they have many years to master skills, to develop hobbies and interests, and that you love and respect them as they are right now.
Lastly, as children learn to speak kindly, play fairly, and look for ways to help others, they will see relationships blossom. These crucial bonds between family and friends are both rewarding and motivating, and they can enrich children’s sense of well-being. Children have many natural instincts to be kind. You can provide them with opportunities, resources, and encouragement that foster social and emotional skills like respect, sharing, reciprocating kindness, or focusing on someone else’s needs.
Ultimately, children can learn that their own importance is based on just being themselves. Their sense of value and purpose can be augmented as they strive to be their best selves: growing in talents and achievements, nurturing relationships, and developing a kind and optimistic outlook.
Here are a few activities to try.
I Matter: Ways I Am Me (Collage or Book)
Help children explore ways that they are unique and special through group discussion and creating a personal collage or book.
Ask children to reflect on questions such as the following:
- “Who is in your family?”
- “What are you learning to do?”
- “Who do you like to play with?”
- “What are some ways you help your family?”
- “How do other people help you feel that you matter?”
- “Who (or what) makes you feel that you matter?
Making a Collage
After the discussion, help children find or create pictures that remind them of things that are important to them, such as happy scenes with their family or classmates, special places they have gone, or things they have made or done. Take a picture of each child to affix to the middle of the posterboard, or have children write their name in a colorful way on an index card that will be the center of the collage. Over a few different sessions, children might make crayon drawings, paste pictures you’ve cut from magazines, or use photos you have taken of them doing various activities. Help them attach the pictures and photos to small poster boards so each child has a personal collage.
Give children an opportunity to talk about their collage and things that make them unique. Encourage classmates to make a positive comment about the child or something in the collage.
Making a book
Provide each child with a binder or folder with metal fasteners, several sheets of white pages, a hole punch, crayons and markers, magazines, scissors and glue sticks, photos of the children (optional).
Help write the child’s name on the cover page as part of the book title. For instance, “I Matter: A Book About ____,” or “All About ____: Ways I am Me.”
Decide on appropriate topics for the book, such as those listed below. The books will eventually contain a page for each topic. Each session, provide the children with a page that has the topic written at the top. Help them write their commentary on the page. Then, if age-appropriate, encourage them to draw or attach a fitting picture.
- A picture of me as a baby
- Things I can do
- Things I like to eat
- Things I like to wear
- Things I like to play outside
- Places I like to go
- People in my family
- Friends I like to be with
- My favorite pets or animals
- Things I can do for someone else
- Games and shows I like
- Things l like to collect
- Books I like to read
- A picture of me now
Talk about each page as they’re completed and add them to each child’s book. Ask children to explain their pictures, with questions such as the following. You may wish to record children’s answers on the back of the page.
- “What is your page about?”
- “What is your favorite__?”
- “How does that person help you feel important?”
- “Why do you like____?”
When the books are completed, put them on display, and refer to them often. Remind children of their importance and contribution to you and your family or group.
The “What I Like” Game
Level 1: Have a small group of children sit together in a circle. Coach a child to start the game by saying a sentence that begins with “I like.” For example, “I like to play with dinosaurs,” “I like to eat cherries,” or “I like to ride on my Dad’s shoulders.” Then ask each child around the circle to take a turn.
Level 2: After everyone in the circle has told something they like, refer to the first person and have the whole group try to remember what that person said. Do the same for each child. This gives everyone a turn to be recognized for their unique interests and personality. It also encourages listening and remembering what others say, which affirms children’s worth.
Level 3: The next time you go around the circle, ask the second child in the circle to repeat what the first person said, and then add a personal sentence. The third child will repeat only the phrase of the second child and then add their personal sentence, and so on, around the circle. Besides developing listening skills, this activity helps children get a chance to be heard and affirmed and learn to appreciate and respect others.
Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in St. George, Utah.
Free Spirit book series by Cheri Meiners:
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