Do you want to be a positive influence on a child? Children need positive influences. We see it daily. They're always looking for role models. They're looking for someone who can show them how to cope with life, give them hope, and communicate to them that life really is worth living. More importantly they're looking for someone to guide them.
Adults often fail to guide and influence children because of their inability to model the very characteristics adults expect children to learn. What we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. Adults often and sadly don't know who they are, what their values are, or how to live their lives. Children easily detect this incongruence, and therefore, do not trust or emulate adults who have not taken the time to make the journey into themselves, a journey that can provide valuable information and guidance.
Being a good influence on children doesn't take fancy techniques. It does take time and courage. It takes looking on the inside, taking a deeper look at yourself. It is a journey fraught with danger, excitement, intrigue, and mystery. There are no shortcuts on this journey and no quick fixes. To get you started on this journey, ask yourself the following questions. If you find yourself answering “No” to many of them, feel it is important to be a good role model, and want to be a better influence on a child in your life, there is help. If the idea of taking this journey scares you, there is help. There also is help if you feel resentful or hurt because the adults in your childhood lacked the interest or ability to be a good influence on you.
- Are you a person who seeks to understand, then seeks to be understood?
The first step in solving a problem is understanding the problem. This is the mark of professionalism. Would you continue to go to a doctor who took a quick look at you, then prescribed? You expect the doctor to ask questions before determining the problem. Too often adults prescribe first, then ask questions or make demands, refusing to hear the child's “side of the story.” Also, listening isn't necessarily hearing. It's important to listen for deeper meanings in children's words. They have a very difficult time explaining and even understanding themselves or their feeling.
- Are you the kind of person who is able to set limits with children without feeling guilty?
Imagine you are placed in a dark room and told to perform a task like riding a bicycle. You have no idea how large the room is, where the walls are, or even if it has walls. You also have no idea who or what else is in the room. All you can see is blackness. This is a pretty scary proposition. This is what it is like for a child living in the world. Children may be able to see but much of what they see, they don't understand. They are in effect working blindly. Just as you would explore the boundaries of the room before performing a task in the dark room, children are always checking out their boundaries, trying to find their limits. It's their job. Your job is to give them the information they need to perform the task of living.
- Do you know what your values are and which ones you would like to instill in children?
Everyday provides opportunities to teach children major life lessons, but too often adults are caught up in the moment. For example, when a child says “No” to a parent, it is an opportunity. Adults very often have a tough time saying "No" to their bosses, spouses, church, parents, friends, etc. Take this opportunity to tell the child that you are proud of their willingness to say "No," then, explain why it is important to follow your directions. Spend some time determining what you want children to learn about life and what kind of situation are a good time to teach these lessons.
- Are you the kind of person who can tolerate mistakes in yourself and others?
Learning is based on trying and failing. Every time we fail we learn more about how to succeed. Perfection, paradoxically, breeds incompetence. Let the children in your life make mistakes, even applaud them when they make a mistake. Help them recognize their courage in trying, then tell them you have confidence in their ability to succeed.