Kids as teachers

Because children have not developed the verbal skills to describe their experiences, communicating can be frustrating for not only the child, but also the adult who is valiantly trying to understand them.

by Mary M. Ernsberger — 

Children are our greatest teachers, because kids see, hear and feel things that adults do not. If you want to know what is going on in a room, watch the children and their reflection of the behaviors occurring around them. Because children have not developed the verbal skills to describe their experiences, communicating can be frustrating for not only the child, but also the adult who is valiantly trying to understand them. That leaves but one option: if a child cannot tell you what is happening, they will most assuredly show you.

Each day more children, teens and young adults are being placed on psychotropic drugs to control their behavior. It is said that these young people are unable to focus, concentrate or complete the tasks they are assigned. Is this true, or are they just reflecting back the same quality of attention they receive?

What does it mean to be present to a child — or to anyone for that matter? Do you give your full focus and attention to the important people in your life? Do you give your full focus and attention to your children when they speak? Being able to listen, focus and respect a child requires a level of awareness that is only available when the mind is not engaged in other thoughts. Do you have the potential within you to be the kind of teacher these children need to help them find their potential to hold this world together and lead it into the next millennium?

First ask yourself, what is potential? How do you measure it? How do you recognize it? How do you encourage its development? Do you know the answers to these questions? If not, ask a young person. They may not be able to tell you in fancy language, but they will tell you from their heart.

A group of teenagers, many who have been or currently are taking behavioral modification drugs, were interviewed recently. Their responses to these questions included: potential is the gift inside that makes you special. It is your promise, your hidden treasure. It is the tools you brought with you to accomplish your mission. It is what makes you different from everyone else. You cannot measure it because it has no limits. Watch, listen and learn. If you pay attention, you can’t miss it.

And then the answers really began to get interesting. How do you encourage someone to develop their potential? Listen, pay attention, spend time with them, meet their friends, find out what movies they are watching, what classes they like in school, what classes they hate and why. The one thing these teens did agree on was their need to be respected. More than one voiced their unhappiness that adults expect kids to show respect and yet do not give respect in return.

One teen said, “We know what we need. We need you to listen to us. We are a lot smarter than most people give us credit for, even if we are not doing very well in school.” Another teen said, “Just because I do not get what they are teaching in some of my classes, the way they are teaching it, does not mean that I need Special Ed. I need my teacher to explain things the way I can understand them.”

When a lifelong educator was asked the same questions, she said she believed that all children held an inner gift, hidden from view. She compared it to finding a buried treasure. You have to provide them with various opportunities and then pay close attention to their reactions and accomplishments. Keep your eyes open for changes in their appearance, demeanor, interests or lack of, expressions — especially the light in their eyes.

Sometimes the changes are very subtle, but when that change is nurtured, it can become a positive force in the child’s life. Teaching is like cooking. Sometimes you have to tweak the recipe to suit your tastes. The same applies to required learning. Sometimes you have to modify the way you teach certain subjects to fit your students’ learning styles. Honor the differences in the way your children and students learn instead of trying to make them all do everything the same way.

An old Chinese proverb says, “Tell me — I forget; show me — I remember; involve me — I understand.” Involve your children and students in the learning process. Unlock their hidden potential and allow that light to shine for the entire world to see.


Mary M. Ernsberger is a holistic healthcare practitioner, mind-body psychologist, master hypnotherapist, and child and family life coach who specializes in services to children and families of children with emotional or behavioral disorders.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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