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Using Common Sense When
Dealing with Children

The number one thing parents and teachers can do to positively affect the lives of our children and students is to become more aware of the way we speak to them. That seems obvious to me, but in my experiences of dealing with parents and other teachers, it seems that many don't realize how powerful our words can be. Children see themselves reflected in our eyes, and if we are constantly saying things like "You never do your homework" or "You are so disrespectful" or "You are always rude," they will begin to believe it. They start to feel that they are disrespectful and rude, that those negative connotations are part of who they are. Over time, being so negative with children can really take its toll. I will never forget the parents of one of my students who always came to conferences with their youngest child. I always said something like "She is such a sweet little girl," and her mom would inevitably respond, "No, she ain't. She bad." I would turn to the little girl and say, " Tamatha, you aren't bad, are you?" and the little girl would twist her hair, look up, and say, "I'm baaad." After hearing that all the time, I am sure she began to believe she really was bad.

What I have learned this year from the schools and communities I have visited is that when parents and teachers make a conscious effort to lift up children, to support them, to praise them, and to acknowledge their successes, those students will have pride in themselves and far more confidence, and their grades will be much higher. There is a school in Phoenix, Arizona, that is really doing it right. All the faculty members have been instructed to make every attempt to be positive with all the children. They are never supposed to be negative or focus on weaknesses or belittle children. The entire atmosphere at the school is focused on supporting those kids and lifting them up, and it is obvious from the moment you walk in the door. I was greeted by a group of students who gave me a guided tour of the school. They introduced me to all the faculty members and to many of their classmates. They were so proud of their school, excited about learning, and respectful. As I walked down the halls, their work filled the walls in colorful displays of their accomplishments. Believe it or not, some elementary schools I visited didn't even post students' work in the hallways. This school, however, was overflowing with pride, support, and love.

People often ask about my parents and how they raised me. I think the most wonderful thing about my parents is that they never once said anything negative about me or my ideas. They were always loving and supportive, and they never said anything to make me feel bad about myself. There were times when they had to be stern and punish me, but they never saw the need to raise their voices or scold me in a way that would belittle me.

How we talk to our children and our students is crucial. We have to support them, make them feel good about themselves, and tell them things that focus on their talents, their abilities, and their potential.

-- From The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use to Motivate, Inspire, and Educate Children, by Ron Clark