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Preschool Education Articles

Helping Children To Love Themselves And Others

You have one of the world's most important jobs. You help children feel strong, able, and loveable. Your positive, caring attitude is catching. As caregivers, your job is to encourage children to think about how people are alike and different, to ask all kinds of questions, and to find answers they can understand. Your words and attitude tell children that differences are wonderful.

From birth, children begin to learn to love themselves and others. Infants and toddlers start to see differences between people. They notice skin colors, hair colors and textures, eye shapes, and other features of race and ethnic background. Toddlers may reach out to feel each other's hair. Older 2-year-olds may stare or say things such as "What's that?"

Three-year olds figure out how to recognize boys and girls. Preschoolers are curious, too. Will skin color wash off? Eye shape and color is of great interest. Unfamiliar languages puzzle them. Even elementary-age children seem "old." Preschoolers also notice that people have different physical and mental abilities. Children often make comments that embarrass us.

By age 4, children are very much tuned in to our attitudes. They sense how we feel about them and other people. Many children grow up feeling good about who they are. "Here, let me do it," they volunteer. Most children feel comfortable being around other people, too. They are eager to have fun together. "Let's play firefighter!"

Many other young children already have negative ideas about themselves. "I can't," they say. Or you overhear them mutter, "I never do anything right." They may not know how to get along well with other children. Such children may seem quiet and shy, or they may be bullies.

Preschoolers may even believe some common biases and stereotypes about other people. They hear put-downs on TV. They see holiday decorations that poke fun. They are indeed aware of what is happening around them and between people.

How do you help children love themselves and others? First, look at your own attitudes, values, and behaviors. Then, include activities to help children appreciate each other's differences, develop a sense of fairness, and learn to stand up for themselves and others.

Mr. Rogers said, We are all different in many ways, but sometimes children are afraid to be different because they want to be like the people they love. Some children may even come to feel there's something wrong with being different. That's why grown-ups need to help children learn that being different is part of what makes them special to the people who love them.

When you help children notice and accept, in fact, celebrate differences, you pave the way to prevent prejudice and promote compassion, tolerance, and understanding.

Reprinted from National Association for the Education of Young Children

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