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Empowerment for Children
When allowed and encouraged by adults who trust and believe in them, children are capable of some truly amazing things. Children who learn to make decisions, solve their own problems and accept responsibility for their actions become stronger individuals. Whether you think this is a good idea or not will probably relate back to what you believe to be the main purpose of childhood.
It is my belief that childhood is a time to learn how the world works on as many levels as possible, and to figure out how to relate to it. It is a time of self discovery.
The people who feel they can make a difference are the people who do; those who feel helpless tend to stay helpless. If we want our children to learn to be active, caring participants in the world as adults, they need to learn to do this as children first.
Realistically, a childís power is limited by the rules of society. But there are many ways that adults can help a child experience empowerment.
From an early age, begin by providing children with guidance to solve their own problems, rather than taking over and solving them for them. This goes for everything from feeding, social interactions, dressing, speaking, etc. Teach them to do things for themselves. It may take longer, and they may not do it as well as you, but resist the urge to take over. This applies to children of all physical and mental abilities. You may be surprised by what your child can do; society tends to underestimate children.
Answer questions when you can, and be honest when you canít. Better yet, show them ways in which they can find their own answers. Express your feelings to them so they learn about their own feelings and discover ways to cope for themselves, and to empathize with others. Encourage them to make decisions whenever possible.
Allow them to make mistakes. Be there for them when they need advice and support. Try not to judge them by a single situation. Encourage them to explore a variety of viewpoints. Allow them to grow and develop their own opinions and come to their own conclusions. Keep it real and try not to indoctrinate your child to follow your own beliefs. Itís not easy, but if they are encouraged to find their own answers, they will become stronger individuals.
Encourage them to follow their own interests. Do not impose your own interests on them. Listen to what they have to say. True listening, without any distractions, is a very difficult thing to do, but if you can learn to do it, it will benefit both you and your child. Be honest if your attention falters; most people donít mind repeating something if it means they will be heard. Children are observant and will know if you aren't listening. Even (and maybe especially) the youngest among us has profound thoughts worth hearing and considering.
Trust your child. You know your child well enough to understand what he or she has to say. Adults do not necessarily know better just because they are adults. Being listened to and trusted will teach them to be trustworthy and to trust themselves.
Treat your child with at least as much respect as you wish to receive from them so they can learn to respect others and themselves.
Discuss situations in which children are disempowered with them, looking at both local and global examples. Help them learn positive ways to voice their opinions to those who are in charge.
Why bother with all of this?
Children with a healthy sense of empowerment are less likely to give up in life. They are less vulnerable to pressure from their peers, bullying, gangs, advertising, substance abuse, and other negative outside influences. They become independent thinkers who are better equipped to make decisions. They are more likely to become politically and socially active. They will learn both how to listen and how to be heard.
In knowing and respecting themselves, they have a solid base from which to grow as mature human beings.
What more could parents wish for their child?
Here is the inspiring story of what empowering one child led to. At 12 years of age, Craig Kielburger saw an article in his local paper about a child labour activist who was killed for speaking out against child labour. He presented the article to the students in his class, and from that simple start, Free the Children was born.
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Record Keeping for Unschoolers
Craig Kielburger and Free the Children
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