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5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Image of a Child

The image you construct shapes your child’s development…

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

Each one of us has an image of the child within us. It is this image that guides us in how we relate to children. Just like our parents’ and teachers’ beliefs shaped our childhood, the image of the child in our minds is invariably influencing our interactions with our children. It is the lens through which we view children. It is important for us to be cognizant of this because it can influence children in more ways than we can imagine.

It is this image that pushes us to behave in certain ways; how we talk to a child, listen to a child, observe a child. If, for example, you have an image of boys being different from girls, then you will treat them differently and have very different interactions with them.

“There are hundreds of different images of the child. Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child. This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child. It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this image.”

As you read and soak in these words by the legendary early childhood educator Loris Malaguzzi, reflect on the image you hold of a child. How do you view children?

Malaguzzi, who founded the iconic Reggio Emilia approach, views the child as a living, breathing, interactive and perennially searching creature whose mind and heart are sensitive to thoughts and feelings he/she sprouts as well as those he/she receives from others, deliberate or not.

Why does our image of the child matter?

Our view of children will shape their foundational environment and how they learn from it. If you see a child as fully dependent, you will try to direct their actions and ultimately, their personality. This can lead the child to believe that he or she is incapable of performing simple tasks.

If, for example, you try to control your child’s play by telling them what materials to use and how to play, the child will limit his/her creative and explorative thinking to what you told them. On the other hand, if you let the play be unstructured and child-led, he or she will find alternate uses for the material that exists around them. This encourages them to take charge, think innovatively, and act independently.

Play should be child-led and free of adult expectations. (Image from Learning Matters)

Similarly, if we believe that children, even very young ones, are worthy of respect then we will engage in real, honest person-to-person communication with them.

In most school settings, for example, the approach to the curriculum and the activities is predetermined and predictable, and children are forced to fit themselves into this mould. This hinders their natural tendencies of curiosity, learning, and wonder.

So, how can parents and caregivers foster a positive image of the child?

The discovery of children’s competencies is one of the greatest ever. They deserve all the respect from society.

Children need to be honoured as capable and valuable experts in their own lives. Honouring children means listening to children’s ideas, which includes asking open-ended questions, allowing children to take the lead and explore their emerging ideas, and valuing their ideas using supportive phrases.

Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, we, at Learning Matters, view children as strong, capable, competent, and full of potential. As parents and teachers of young children, there are several ways to incorporate this philosophy into our everyday lives for the betterment of our children and their future:

  1. Become aware of how you see children and why that is. Reflect on your image of a child in your mind or by writing it down on paper. Also, try to answer what influences that image — is it the society, is it your own upbringing, is it you trying to impose your personal beliefs and desires on the child? Once you realise why you see children through a certain lens, you can begin the process of deconstructing and unlearning.
  2. Analyse how you speak to the child. What type of language do you use? Is it mostly in commands? (pick up your toys, wear your shoes…) Is it baby talk? Is it protecting and telling the child what not to do?
    This type of language is detrimental to a child’s growth. They can become accustomed to always being told what to do instead of making their own decisions. In the long run, these skills can determine your child’s ability to lead and self-confidence. Instead, offer suggestions to them. In this article, we dive deeper into the appropriate language to be used around children.
Don’t tell children what not to do, instead only offer suggestions on what they can do. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

3. Notice if you ask for the child’s opinion on matters that affect them. What would they like to eat? What colour clothes would they like to wear? Which story would they like to listen to at bedtime?
If you don’t consider the child’s wishes and perspectives, you’re sending them the message that they are not valued enough. On the contrary, if you involve them in the decision-making, you are allowing them the space to assess their options and learn from their consequences.

4. When it comes to communicating with the child, do you believe that they can independently articulate their feelings? Are their emotions acknowledged?
If you don’t, you will most likely talk at the child, snubbing off what they might be feeling or want to express. But if you provide them with the environment to speak and express themselves, you are encouraging healthy two-way communication, with room for asking questions and seeking the meaning of new words and concepts.

5. Do you respect children? Since children are much younger compared to adults, we barely see them as individuals. Many adults will often tease children in the guise of playing with them such as hiding their toy or taking their snack when they may not be willing to share or forcing them to recite a rhyme.
All these are examples of disrespecting children. As caregivers, you must view and treat children with the same dignity as any other being. This means checking in with them about their feelings, honouring their wishes, valuing their opinions etc.

As teachers and parents, we need to move away from the image of a child as a deficient and dependent being who needs to be constantly helped and filled with new ideas. Children thrive on wonder and curiosity. Environments at home and in the school, particularly early childhood spaces, should be such where children are respected and each child is valued, supported, and encouraged to think.

It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child we need to hold….. instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strength.




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Sonya Philip

Sonya Philip

Founder, Learning Matters

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