Monday, June 18, 2012

Acknowledgment: A Path to Self-Esteem

Noticing what children are working on and acknowledging what they are doing without praise is something we strive for at Tumbleweeds. So, what does noticing without praise look like? Noticing is commenting on what a child is doing, whether the child is happy, proud, frustrated, angry, or embarrassed.

There are many ways to take notice of what a child is doing. When a child has been working hard on something, and they finally accomplish what they had planned on (e.g., stacking a bundle of objects together), you can say to that child, “You worked really hard at putting those objects on top of each other, and you did it!” This is one way to show a child that you have been watching their play and noticed their hard work.

It can also work another way. For instance, if a child has worked on something for a long time, and they get frustrated and look at you, you can say, “You are feeling frustrated with those blocks. You have been working really hard stacking those blocks, and they keep falling over.” You are acknowledging the child's hard work and also letting the child know that getting frustrated is okay.

Noticing and acknowledging children’s work shows them that although you may not be directly playing with them, you are engaged in their independent play. This can work also when a child has done something that was asked or offered to them. For instance, at the Preschool house, I will often ask the preschoolers to help put some items away, even if they were not playing with those specific items. I will always tell them when I notice them put something away or help out in some other way, which builds their awareness of our group and school being a vital part of their community.

However, when children are highly engaged in play, it may not always be beneficial to comment on what they are doing because it can interrupt their work. By waiting for a cue from the child (such as eye contact), we can limit the disruptions to their processes. When we give children the space and time to work through their processes, we send a message of Basic Trust to the child: I trust that you can figure out what to do when you’re ready to, and this process of figuring it out is an important part of your work in becoming you!

So, what is the difference between praise and positive acknowledgment? The definition of praise is “Words that express approval or admiration,” whereas the definition of acknowledgment is “A sign showing that somebody has seen or heard somebody else.” The goal of acknowledgment at Tumbleweeds is to bring awareness to what a child is doing, to enable each child to feel seen as well as increase their abilities to see connections between their actions and the world around them.
This allows a child to have a sense of accomplishment that comes from within the child. Observing what a child is doing also helps them develop a sense of worth and builds their self-esteem. Self-esteem grows from within by developing confidence in daily activities, by developing respect for ones self, and by having a positive image of ones self. These can all be fostered by us simply observing what a child is doing, acknowledging what they are doing, and simply being engaged in the activities that they do throughout the day.

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