421. Changing Children

When we decide to parent or teach children, we decide to get involved in their lives and have some impact. That means we hope that the children will somehow be different because of what we do. So one way to look at parenting and teaching is as an attempt to change children.
I don’t know about you, but I have quite a few unpleasant memories of people’s attempts to change me, and I don’t want children to have memories like that. I like to be accepted, appreciated, and even celebrated for who I already am, and I’m quite sure children like that kind of treatment, too.
But I’ve been changed by people. I know that ultimately, I’ve been in charge of the changes in me, but plenty of people have had major effects on me. My parents and teachers knew what they wanted from me, and when they did their work effectively, they often got what they wanted. I changed from someone who didn’t know how to read to someone who did. Part of my reason was that I wanted to know what those strange marks on paper were all about, but another part had to do with the people who wanted me to know how to read.
There’s a delicate balancing act we have to play. As a parent and teacher, I always tried (and try) to communicate my acceptance of who children already were (and are). My most notable successes as a parent and teacher happened when I was able to effectively communicate that acceptance. And my most dismal failures happened when I either couldn’t communicate it, or worse, didn’t feel it. When children think they’re not good enough for someone, they usually resist being affected by that someone.
On the other hand, if we’re really totally happy with the way someone already is, why teach? Complicated, isn’t it? I’ve known people who were not at all good at communicating their acceptance of me. Those people may have had important things to teach me, but there was no way I was going to let them. And I know people who really seem to think I’m pretty good. I like them, and they change me, often without even seeming to try. Some of my best friendships have a lot to do with my friends and me changing each other. I get changed by friendly suggestions, well-timed humor, and serious discussions.
Many of us children-changers don’t like to think of ourselves as that. But in a way, that’s what we are. We plan lessons to help children grow, and growth is change. Even when we work on children’s self-esteem, we’re trying to change children into people who like and respect themselves more. We’re trying to deliver an important and potentially confusing message: “I thoroughly appreciate the person you are, and I have some ideas about ways you could become even better.”

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