In her wise and wonderful book, Building Self-Esteem in Children, Patricia H. Berne (with her co-writer and husband Louis M. Savary) tells about receiving a letter from her daughter that included these words:
“This may sound awful, but it’s nice to have people worry about you. It makes you feel like you’re worth more than you thought.”
Ms. Berne reflected on what that phrase meant to her in her work as a children’s therapist:
“Children with low self-esteem need to feel, see, and hear, so that they can finally know internally that they are worth more than they thought and that this worth is alive, not only in them, but in a loving relationship with you.”
This gives us another interesting peek into the child’s world. When you look at the faces of little children, you see a question mark (it’s part of what makes them so beautiful). It’s a question about life and the world, but it’s also a question about themselves.
As Berne writes: “There seems to be a kind of innate drive in children to want to be loved, valued and esteemed, and to love, value and esteem others in turn.”
Berne’s book is full of stories of struggling children who slowly began to bloom academically and socially once they learned to feel valued and feel good about themselves. One of Ms. Berne’s professors told her: “Many children don’t care about learning until they learn that you care about them.”
As Berne points out, this work of helping a child develop healthy self-esteem and self-confidence (which is very different from self-centeredness) is a slow process. It takes patience and perseverance. It’s basically the work of loving.
It’s all the little things we do—the way we are with them, the way we look at them and talk to them, the way we truly listen, the unexpected things we do—that signal to them, “You are worth more than you think you are.”
But what a great work that is—watching that question mark on their faces slowly turn into an exclamation mark!
Geoffery Alan Moore