“Self-image’ is the key to human personality and human behavior. Change the self image and you change the personality and the behavior.
One child beaming with smiles- positive and optimistic. The other woefully negative about everything; hard-faced, nasty to his peers and harshly self-critical of himself. Both 11 years. Each with a very different expression of “self”.
What shapes a child`s sense of “self”?
From an early age, children begin to construct the canvas of self-piece by piece almost unconsciously. Our concept of who we think we are is shaped and magnified as we interact with the people around us. Our ideas of “self” are validated and mirrored by the significant others around us- parents, family, friendship groups and teachers.
The critical age for the emerging self is adolescence. Children describe themselves as they are described. Kind, brilliant, fat, beautiful, lazy, quiet, slow, loud, stupid, clever and so on. With time and these images settle so deeply, so seamlessly that a child begins to “grow“ into the various dimensions of their emerging self. Thus, children are influenced not only by what they see and feel, but by what they hear and experience around them everyday both negative and positive.
Thus, teenagers might be drawn to find ways to test the extent to which they exemplify the pictures which we have painted for them. They may act out, withdraw, seek friendships or create experiences which actively re-enforce their sense of the constructed “self”.
The point is this. As adults we can do and undo. The next time you come across that young person who cannot see past the negative images of himself, who is incredibly morose about his place in the world at age 11, you must stop to consider what his internal perspective of himself is.
For him, the journey of building the psychological jigsaw – his self-image- began internally years earlier. It certainly began much earlier than the time it has taken him to stand in front of you with gritted teeth trying to hold back his emotions… unsuccessfully.
As adults, we have to take a good look at ourselves and accept some responsibility for how we engage and interact with the children we have, the youngsters we nurture or the students who are directly under our tutelage.
We must act more positively to affect how children see themselves.
Children blossom in positive environments. Even where negativity has already set in for a teenager, it can be fixed if we get it right. We can help young people challenge earlier paradigms of a negative self-image.
Quite simply: for the emerging self-what you say matters, how you say it matters even more. It really is that simple.0