As adults, sometimes we do not realize the power we have over a child. We can greatly influence how she feels about herself and consequently her actual success in life. Even if we do not physically abuse a child, we have great power to damage. Thomas Armstrong calls these “paralyzing experiences” that can shut down one or more of a child’s multiple intelligences. For example, as a child, I could not carry a tune and did not realize it. I would organize little shows with my siblings and expect my parents to watch. One time, I was in the fourth verse of some song and my mother said, “I can’t take this any more!” and left the room. I was bewildered and mortified. The music teacher at school added to this certain belief when I was put in the “second” choir, when only the first choir students got to actually sing in public. Luckily I’m a fairly stubborn and “can-do” individual and was able to make it through these paralyzing experiences. I even learned to carry a tune! It took lots of effort (and 30 years!) but I like singing and want to encourage teachers and students to sing and engage with music as well. I’ll never be a “Beverly Sills,” (one of my heroes), but I can sing well enough to enjoy myself and motivate others.
Thankfully, we also have the power to empower a child as well. Called “crystallizing experiences,” a term coined by David Feldman, developed by Howard Gardner, and encouraged by Thomas Armstrong, these events can provide a child with a dramatic insight into their true strengths and possibilities. I see this as a major responsibility of a teacher and parent.
This is not always easy, but it can mean the world to a child. For example, if we have a child that lies a lot, we can choose to make her feel like a bad person, or we can find ways she can use that brilliant imagination to make up stories by writing, drawing, making videos, creating simulation games, and so on.
Erik Erickson says there are many stages of psychosocial development and that at each stage, the individual has a task to complete or risk not advancing. Babies need to know they have a safe world that they can trust. Two to four year olds need to be able to do things for themselves. Four to six year olds need to see themselves as good, not bad, people. School age children need to feel they can be successful—in school and other areas of their lives. Notice how important the grown-ups in a child’s life can be in supporting him positively while he is clearing these hurdles.
We can create crystalizing experiences by realizing the strengths and interests of a child and providing contexts where these can grow. Even small things can help: Making an effort to smile at children, noticing when they do something positive and mentioning it, being specific about the unique abilities and qualities we see in them.
Try this: Look a child you know in the eye and tell him (or her!) something good and real you notice about him (or her!).
You have the power!
Use it wisely!