A Chinese proverb states, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark”. This is also attributed to Robert A Heinlein, a popular 20th Century science fiction writer. Another proverb along the same vein goes, “give me the child and I will show you the man”.
I once had one of those ‘in the moment’ revelations as it were, while supervising an after-school football session in which a pupil had made one of those all-too-frequent errors of judgement that cause them to misdirect the ball, to the annoyance of the rest of the team. As this young child received the verbal annoyance of some of his team members, I realised that as an adult and one in a role of influence and authority, my response could either encourage or discourage that young player and in doing so it could affect them for life!
Many adults can remember back to their formative years when perhaps a parent, teacher or other person said things that hindered or helped. Those experiences bring back the stinging remarks said to us and that damaged our confidence, or the praise that inspired us to keep going. All of those experiences and the comments and actions left a mark on our souls like ink from an indelible pen.
Goethe put it this way
“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832
That realisation on the football pitch in a small corner of rural England brought me up short! Children come into this world not as a ‘blank slate’ but with personality and lots of potential. How we communicate and what we communicate, the actions we take, all make a mark on the lives of our youngsters. Not only that, but as Goethe’s quote implies, we need to see the potential in our children and help to draw it out of them.
To do this begin looking for the ‘seeds’ of that potential. A seed looks nothing like the full-grown plant and we do not know what ‘seeds’ they already have! Our children are born with talents, abilities and gifts. These seeds if watered will flourish and result in them bringing positive contributions to those around them. Look for clues in your family history to those positive traits and talents. If you can’t find those then begin by observing what they are drawn to and the things that are positive that seem to come naturally to them.
A couple of personal and professional anecdotes illustrate this. I remember teaching school swimming lessons and one child was afraid of the water but really wanted to swim. It could have been so easy to focus attention on the already strong swimmers. Instead all it took was a little time and trust-building for the pupil to overcome this fear and within three weeks the pupil was swimming like a fish! In my family history there are music teachers and pianists. This passed me by and was nurtured in one of my children, blossoming into a song-writer and musician.
We may not see the full extent of what those seeds may grow into, yet our responsibility, or rather our privilege, is to help our young generation to recognise their potential, encourage them, believe in them when they lose faith in themselves and provide the opportunities for them to grow. Each encouragement we give and every sacrifice we make for them writes an indelible message of positive affirmation and encouragement. Look beyond what we see, and as Goethe said, “when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”
Surely this is the goal of every parent and educator in the land, to enable the younger generation to reach their potential?