We all want to raise children who love themselves and exude kindness to others. How exactly do we do that?
Caregivers are children’s primary role models. How we behave and talk about ourselves directly influences our kids’ outlook on the world. Just in case your talk isn’t always as positive as you might like, books are a powerful tool for influencing how our children think of themselves and the world.
The books we choose to read to our children when they are young have a huge effect on how they conceive of themselves and their world. Are the girls all damsels in distress? Are the boys always dirty and rough? Do children of color ever take center stage or are they always the sidekick, best friend or next-door neighbor? Do any of the protagonists have disabilities?
When we expose our kids to realities other than their own, we broaden their concepts of self and of other people.
When children are secure in themselves, that overflows into their relationships with others. The youngest children should start out with a confidence boost that will give them a firm foundation from which love for others can easily flow.
Books That Introduce Love for Self and Others
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I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow, celebrates a love for self. A little girl with gorgeous wild hair revels in all of her wonderful qualities and encourages the readers to do the same.
Marvelous Me! by Lisa Marie Bullard, illustrated by Brandon Reibeling, is a great book after children mature past I Like Myself. The image on the front of the book says it all: an African American boy peering in the mirror, totally jazzed by what he sees.
As children grow, they start to develop a sense of how the outside world perceives them, shaping their beliefs about how they should behave and present themselves to the world. These pressures can make it hard for them to accept themselves as they are. Lack of self-acceptance also makes it harder to accept and love others, particularly people who challenge our expectations of what is “normal.”
I Am Human: A Book on Empathy by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, recognizes the wondrous nature of human beings and reminds us to treat ourselves, and each other, gently. Another wonderful aspect of this book is that the main character we follow throughout the book is an African American boy. To have an African American male on the cover of a book that proclaims “I am human” is a radical statement of belonging and empathy in a world that often attempts to compromise the humanity of black boys.
Child development researchers have found that children can distinguish racial differences by six months. They can identify sex and gender differences by two years.
Another book that is very helpful in addressing difference with children is The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. In The Day You Begin, the protagonist begins to learn that we’re not all the same and that’s quite wonderful. When she finds strength in her uniqueness and the commonality of difference, she finds she’s no longer alone. Lopez’s illustrations leap off the page and draw the reader into the action of the story – how do we handle ourselves when we are alone and different and desperately looking for a foothold?
All of us should have friendships with people who are different from us. It could be as simple as striking up a conversation with another parent at school. Or inviting a parent to join a committee or attend an activity at the school. We have to take the risk and put ourselves in proximity to different people to build real relationships and community.
For children, it’s often easier because they go to school with children of different backgrounds and with different abilities. Here is a great challenge for a child. Find a friend who is of a different ethnicity than you are and draw that person’s face. No one is just one brown or one pink or one yellow.
We all have undertones of reds, greens, yellows, and blues to our skin. We are marvelously rich and layered. And we have intrinsic value.
Drawing someone is the perfect way to slow down and look at the face of a person we care about. Highlight the eyes, the smile, whatever features make that person special. Highlight your subject’s intrinsic humanity. Seeing an individual in order to draw her is the height of respect and relationship.
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