We put so many limitations and boundaries on our children. They hear us say “no” a lot. It’s time to empower them with some yeses.
Here are 10 things we need to give kids permission to do:
1. Speak their truth and use their voice.
We need their ideas, their solutions to problems and their advocacy for issues they care about. We need them to gain the confidence and self-esteem to speak up in more and more challenging situations as they get older. This starts when they are young by empowering them to use their voice and their words to make a difference. That’s it. Let’s just listen without judgement, censorship, or ridicule. If they feel safe to speak their truth, then we are doing something right. Think of the ways and situations as an adult where you don’t speak your truth. We mustn’t let them grow up fearing that their own beliefs and ideas are in anyway unacceptable. When we respect children, we receive a tremendous amount of respect in return. If we fear something in them speaking their truth, then let’s look at what we are afraid of – it likely has nothing to do with them.
2. Honor and express their emotions in authentic, healthy ways.
Every adult on the path to wisdom knows that unexpressed, repressed emotions cause a myriad of problems. From illness and disease, relationship and marital issues to tempers that flare at inappropriate times, unexpressed emotions can be toxic and destructive. Repressed emotions cause harm not just to the individual, they also cause problems in families, relationships and work environments. Like the pebble in the pond, personal problems ripple out to untold numbers of people causing pain. Let’s nip this in the bud by allowing our children to express their emotions, good and bad. Anger, fear, worry and pain are real and difficult emotions for all of us and we need to encourage and allow young people to express them as honestly as possible. Let’s teach them and model for them how to talk about their feelings when they are ready. Please, never, ever tell a child that her feelings are wrong in any way. They aren’t.
3. Be right.
Too many of our kids expect to be told they are wrong. We would not have such an epidemic of fear and anxiety related disorders if children lived from a place of believing who they are, what they think and how they answer questions would be right. The testing culture rampant in their educational experience is causing major problems in their sense of self and self-worth. Let’s stop constantly deducting points from their answers because their answers are their best attempt at expressing who they are. Who they are is not wrong but they believe they inherently are wrong when most of the feedback they receive is perceived as negative. Let’s flip the dynamic and make it more of an unexpected outcome to be wrong than right. Sure, trying, failing, learning from mistakes and trying again are important ways to learn, but being told they are “correct” for the things that can’t and shouldn’t be “graded” can help our children learn how it feels to be right just for being who they are. The more we work from the space where they feel empowered by being right in their ideas, opinions or inspirations, the stronger they will be when it comes to facing failure and mistakes.
4. Be creative.
Creativity had been edged out of learning, out of under resourced schools and out of too-busy childhood lives. Let’s make time, space and permission for kids to be wildly creative in what ever way excites them.
5. Know more than us.
You know, they actually do know more than us in many ways. Sure, they need formal education and guidance, but very often they’ve absorbed and learned so much more than we think they have. It’s a fact of life that each generation has historically gone further and achieved more than the one before – that despite centuries of oppression and disempowerment from older generations who kept children small and less important (think “children should be seen and not heard” <<shudder>>). My students have taught me so much over the years. You’ll hear many teachers say that their students taught them more than they feel they could ever teach. May you be so lucky to be the recipient of their wisdom too.
6. Start something.
Young people are starting businesses, social movements and creating solutions to problems all across the world. And they’re making a difference. Imagine if they ALL did this! Oh, wait, they can!
7. Show us the way.
Imagine if we stopped on occasion and asked their opinion – on anything! How many problems could they help us solve? Have you ever asked a young person…
- How can we eradicate poverty?
- How can we work with children with learning disabilities?
- How can we motivate you to do your homework?
- If you could design a new technology to solve a problem in the world, what would it be and how would it work?
- How could you make something in your home more efficient/better/happier/cheaper/greener?
8. Love and care about themselves.
Just like honestly expressing their emotions, self love and self care are essential life skills all humans must learn to persevere and become healthy, happy adults. In order to learn and practice self-love, our children must be allowed to… (see #9)
9. Set boundaries.
We must teach boundary setting and we must respect and adhere to the boundaries they set. Children are entitled to a certain level of privacy and the right to saying no. It could be the choice not to hug a relative or the freedom to write in a journal that stays private – whatever it is, we must respect their boundaries. This is simultaneously how young people learn trust. In the moment, boundaries may be inconvenient or frustrating for adults, but these are touch points for us to tune in and learn why they are drawing boundaries. If we begin at an early age and really tune in, young people can learn healthy choices and responses. Of course if a child is troubled, we must be aware of signs when we must get engaged. Adults are always wiser and we must always be on the lookout for times and situations where a young person needs intervention. but if we teach them boundaries and trust from an early age, they will be more equipped to make smart, self-loving choices.
10. Be kids.
Brilliant, empowered, goofy, carefree young people who don’t have to be saddled with adult responsibilities yet. They don’t need to take on more than they are not ready to. Adult culture and all its heaviness of worry should not have to be theirs. In fact, (see #6 & #8), if we allow them the space and the permission to not follow in our overburdened, stressed out ways of being modern adults, I guarantee they will figured out how to “adult” better, simply by being allowed to be kids as long as they can and given responsibility gradually, with guidance. They are far smarter and craftier than we thing or give them credit for. Let’s create a deliberate gap here to allow them to become something better by learning a better way to handle the challenges we deal with every day.
Kids are curious, crafty and smart. What if we show them that we know and admire this about them? How would you have felt as a kid or a teenager if an adult said to you, “Hey, I know you can do this better than me… What do you think?”
Yeah, I would have been walking on a cloud for the rest of the day too.
About the Author:
Amy Carrier has been building new solutions in education since 2000. She is known for empowering teens to become entrepreneurs teaching them how to create their own unique solutions to problems in their communities. Amy has beeninterviewed on CNN about teaching business and entrepreneurship in schools.
Follow and read more of Amy’s writing on her blog here.
Visit her website www.EmpowermentThroughEducation.com and sign up in the footer for the quarterly newsletter.