This year marks the 10th anniversary of Highlights State of the Kid, an annual survey that gives kids the chance to express what is on their minds and what is most important to them. In this year’s survey we probed on who and what influences kids today and do they feel heard and empowered. Given this topic we caught up with Adora Svitak and Hannah Taylor, both of whom were featured as Gallant Kids in Highlights magazine, for making a positive impact in their communities. We asked them to share their thoughts on how kids can make a difference and how kids can make their own voices heard.
“Age does not define what you can do,” shares Hannah Taylor, founder of The Ladybug Foundation, who was profiled in the February 2007 issue of Highlights to recognize her efforts on making a positive impact in her community. She founded The Ladybug Foundation to raise funds and awareness for those who experience homelessness, hunger, or poverty across Canada. Hannah’s foundation continues to support more than 70 shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks. At a very young age, Hannah understood that a five-year-old voice is just as profound and important as a 50-year-old voice.
“What you care about and what you think matters, and it matters right now,” shares Hannah. “Young people are innovative, hopeful, and brilliant, and their passionate hearts should be taken seriously. If you are a young person interested in making change, the first step is to learn as much as you can about what you care about. Then reach out to others about doing something to make change. You are never alone in what you are passionate about, and with a solid team you can make an even bigger difference.” Hear from Hannah in her own words.
“As a child, you have a unique ability to look someone in a position of power in the eye and ask them, ‘Why is the world like this? How can we make it better?’ Be relentless in asking those questions; realize that in and of itself is a kind of power,” offers Adora Svitak, a Gallant Kid featured in the December 2008 issue of Highlights for channeling her love of writing and traveling to schools across the country to talk to kids about reading and writing. Currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Adora is a published author, internationally acclaimed speaker, and advocate for causes including literacy, youth empowerment, and feminism. In the decade since she was featured, Adora has used her powerful voice to inspire kids (and adults) all over the world. Hear from Adora directly.
We are encouraged that we are raising a generation of upstanders who believe adults and the world at large care about what they have to say, and who take action when they see the need for justice.
It was heartening to learn that 93 percent of kids who responded to the 2018 Highlights State of the Kid™ survey say they’d take action if they saw someone doing or saying something mean, and that nearly all respondents—90 percent, in fact—feel that the grown-ups in their lives care about what they have to say. These findings are great news, representing an age of positive parenting, a shift from parents being focused on wanting kids to get “good grades/good jobs” to parents focused on nurturing the inner lives of their children too.
Such a shift begins with empowering our kids, helping them gain a sense of inner confidence, courage, and strength to successfully surmount whatever life presents! It is guiding them to persevere when obstacles arise as they always do, such as bullies, failed tests, mistakes, disappointments, and bruises. Having such inner strength will also move them toward pursuing their dreams.
The act of empowering children is a process of guiding them to feel and believe that they are powerful now, and creating optimum conditions that mirror these concepts back to them. Owen, age five, lit up when his father told him he was “so creative” and “talented” in his painting class. You could see Owen looking more confident and stronger. It is a great example of a child beginning to feel like a powerful creator.
Unfortunately, well-intentioned parents sometimes do the opposite as well. Olive, age eight, was dancing with friends and playing with her Hula-Hoop in the park. It was just good ole summer fun. Her mom told Olive that she looked as if she had “two left feet” when she was dancing. Olive cried. Instead of fueling Olive’s sense of power, her mom’s words diminished it.
Learning to empower children doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the good news is that we each can become better. It really takes the same effort that you apply to any goal—enthusiasm, dedication, and a willingness to “set aside” any preconceived ideas, projections, and personal baggage. A child so wholeheartedly wants to believe his dreams can come true. So it is up to us, the adults, to support this notion (whether it makes sense to us or not!). For example, little Joey, age three, told me he wants to be a spaceship repairman. I replied, “Go for it!”
As you gather your emotional and mental forces to focus on empowering your children, there are three techniques that can help you consciously empower them. They are:
Mirroring. It is the process of serving as the reflection of children’s abilities, skills, and qualities so they begin to “see” themselves as they really are: highly valuable, talented, and capable right now. Owen’s father, from the example cited earlier, mirrored to Owen his creative strengths. The effect was nearly immediate because you could see Owen feeling more positive and confident.
Encouragement. Such support--“putting in” courage or belief in your children—enables them to see themselves as they are: highly competent now. Madeline, age six, had her training wheels taken off her bike recently. She was excited and terrified. Her mom came to her side and said, “You can do it! I believe in you,” and with a little push, Madeline did it! Her mom’s words of encouragement made all the difference.
Partnering. Let your child know that he can count on you for support, but negotiate so he’ll be willing to try new experiences. If he is hesitant to, say, attend a birthday party with second-grade classmates he doesn’t know very well, give him an out. “If you go for an hour and are miserable, I’ll come pick you up.”
Encouragement, mirroring, and partnering may seem like simple ideas—and they are. I believe that many things are simple but they’re not always easy. It’s like riding 100 miles on your bicycle—conceptually it is easy, but actually doing it is much harder. What I know for sure is that by making small changes in our everyday strategies, we can impact big changes in our children, which help them feel and ultimately do their best.
Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, educator, and leader in the field of children’s emotional health. Her new book The Emotionally Healthy Child helps adults raise emotionally healthy and ultimately happier children. She’s written for Psychology Today and contributed to the PBS series This Emotional Life. Learn more: www.growinghappykids.com
Adults appreciate words of praise from their boss or a celebratory dinner that acknowledges a well-executed project. Kids also like to celebrate their accomplishments. As parents, our challenge is how to celebrate children’s successes without going overboard.
From good grades to a winning goal to getting accepted into a program or making it through the week at a new school, there are lots of achievements worth celebrating as a family.
Here are six simple ways to celebrate life’s smaller victories and bigger moments:
1. Take time.
Fitting in a “celebration” may seem impossible or even get forgotten in the chaos of a week. That’s why it is important to acknowledge an accomplishment as soon as possible. Giving your full, undivided attention to a child is often what he or she is seeking. That, and a hug, can go a long way toward celebrating life’s small (and sometimes big) moments.
2. Tell others.
In an age of social media, it has become much more commonplace to share your children’s achievements with others on Facebook and Instagram. But are there people your children would like to share their accomplishments with? Texting a picture or FaceTiming with friends and family may be a better option than social media. Words from Grandma and Grandpa about good grades are fun to hear, and FaceTiming with them about a good week at school acknowledges the accomplishment and keeps them informed of all the positives.
3. Display it.
Depending on their ages, displaying children’s work or awards is a way for them to feel that their accomplishment is worthy of being viewed. Buy a set of inexpensive plastic frames that can be used as a rotating display of pictures and awards. Hang a corkboard where an older child might like to put up ribbons or medals. The kitchen refrigerator is always a place people go, which makes it the perfect spot for putting up photos of events, report cards, and artwork that makes your child proud. A chalkboard in a high-traffic area can be your family headline board, announcing a child’s accomplishment like a news flash!
4. Pick the meal.
Getting the chance to be the mealtime decision-maker can be a special treat to celebrate an accomplishment. Whether it’s a frozen-yogurt treat, dinner at a favorite local restaurant, or a favorite meal at home followed by a family movie or game night, your child will enjoy the opportunity to choose the celebration.
5. Create traditions.
Repeating some things can get boring, but when we repeat something fun, we often call it a tradition! Maybe you have a plate that is brought out only for such occasions, or a tablecloth that you use only for a special reason. Celebrating the joys of life should be a tradition, and including a physical element or an activity (like a family dance night) makes them memorable.
6. Physical rewards.
While there is much controversy about giving a gift or money to children as a reward, there are circumstances in which it can be a way to celebrate hard work. Good grades can mean money in the bank for college. A gift that will help in a program they’ve been accepted into makes sense. If the physical reward helps them to keep achieving, it also helps to celebrate the accomplishment.
From supportive words to displaying work, it’s simple to take a few moments to make your children feel special about their accomplishments. There is often little cost to acknowledging important moments in life. When parents and others acknowledge hard work toward a goal, it is very meaningful and encouraging, especially to children.
Janine Boldrin is the creative director at Chameleon Kids, publishers of Military Kids’ Life, an award-winning print magazine for children of U.S. service members. For more information, visit www.chameleonkids.com.