It’s Important to Take Care When Speaking to Children
By Dale Peterson, MD – Building Health
The Week of the Young Child™ is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It has been observed annually since 1971.
When I think of early childhood education I am reminded of a story related to me by a son-in-law. His daughter, one of my grandchildren, had recently celebrated her third birthday. She was well on her way to becoming a delightful young lady.
Like so many three-year-olds, she was content to live in the moment. Bumps and other mishaps were quickly forgotten, and she wasted little if any energy worrying about her future.
One evening he said to her, “Katie, you’re so pretty!”
“I know,” Katie replied nonchalantly and continued playing with her Barbie. She had been told that she is pretty often enough in her young life to have accepted the statement as a fact and it was now an integral part of her self-image.
It is good for a little girl to know that she is pretty. All are, but far too few know it. Many have received other messages that have been accepted without question; messages that will not serve them well as they grow older.
It is accurately said that children are like sponges.
They take in everything they experience and catalog it in their subconscious mind. They do not question the accuracy of what they hea, but accept all statements as fact. The input of parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, and others determines to a great degree what a child “knows” about himself. The belief system that is established in a child’s formative years will dramatically affect the way the world is viewed as a teenager or adult.
Brian Klemmer, an expert in character development, taught that 99 % of our decisions are made by subconscious programs that were established by what we learned as children. We think that we are weighing the facts and making a conscious choice, but the scale we are using to make that determination may be out of balance.
In his book Outlier,s Malcolm Gladwell compares the lives of two of the most intelligent men born in the twentieth century. One, Robert Oppenheimer, was born in a wealthy home and received messages as a child that caused him to believe that he was capable of achieving anything he chose.
He became a renowned physicist and is known as the father of the atomic bomb. The other, Christopher Langan, was raised in an environment that caused him to distrust authority and believe that the world was against him. Despite having an IQ of 195, one of the highest ever recorded, Langan ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri.
I have observed that children tend to live up to what is expected of them.
Unfortunately, they also live down to what is expected of them. A child who is told that he is stupid and will never amount to anything will incorporate that information into his subconscious self-image and subsequently sabotage any opportunity to succeed. A child who is told she is pretty, smart, and creative will see herself that way and succeed in spite of any obstacles that are thrown in her path.
What is true of children is also true of adults. We tend to live up to or down to what is expected of us and, more importantly, what we expect of ourselves.
The good news is that you and I need not let our childhood programming determine how we live our lives. It is possible to change the way we view the world if we are willing to consciously confront the programs that were put in place when we were young and question their validity.
Not only is it possible to change the way we view ourselves and the world, there is a Biblical mandate to do so. In Romans 12:2 we are told, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” As children, we unquestioningly accepted what we were told by the world around us and conformed to its expectations. In most instances, those expectations fall far short of those God has for us. Renewing the mind is not an easy task; it is far more comfortable to continue to run on autopilot and let subconscious programs have their way. Comfort, however, has a price. It prevents growth and keeps us from reaching our full potential.
I encourage you to choose the words you speak to young children carefully, for they will have a lasting influence.
I also urge you to challenge the validity of messages you may have received as a young child. If you catch yourself thinking, “That’s just the way I am” or “That’s the way it always goes” recognize that you are listening to programs that are in all likelihood based upon lies you were told when you were young. Don’t settle for the way you are, but become the person you would like to be.
Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health. His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges. His book Building Health by Design: Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life was released in December 2010.
Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at www.drdalepeterson.com.