I rarely bring up personal information in my clinical sessions, mostly because I want my patients’ time to be 100 percent their own. If I do bring in personal information, it is because it is very relevant to the process or their experience. Today, I had an experience I would like to share with you all.
I brought my daughter back to my elementary school to meet my 6th grade teacher, a very kind, and generous woman. When we met again, after quiet a number of years, it was more like old friends talking to one another. However, being at my old school, lots of memories flooded back and I began to understand and truly appreciate her role in my life. As a 12 year-old child, you are desperate to be independent, have freedoms and you dream of the day of going to high school, and eventually an adult. What would it be like to pick out the food I want at the grocery store? What would it be like to have my own money? What you don’t understand, at least at the time, is how formative each and every day is as a child. You don’t think that a negative experience with a peer or a teacher will affect you, but it can and does. I know this because the kindness my 6th grade teacher taught me has stayed with me my entire life. On her white board, she STILL has written “MISTAKES (spelled incorrectly with letters that are backwards) ALLOWED HERE.” What a wonderful lesson to learn as a child. That lesson taught me that I am not perfect and nor should I be, that making a mistake and finding a way to right that mistake can be so much more rewarding than never making a mistake in the first place, to be patient with my family and friends and with my own patients, and to accept that we are all imperfect on this journey of life. It is a message I share with almost every patient I see in practice, though most do not know the origin of the statement.
Seeing my teacher today reminded me that just like a teacher, parents have the power to build up or tear down their children. Why do we call childhood the “formative” years? It’s because so much of our personality as adults and our memories are formed/based in these years. Your children will remember their younger years more than their 20s or 30s.
Remember that when you teach your child how to problem-solve and persevere through a mistake instead of protecting them from it, you are building them up. Remember that when you want to scream at your child because you are feeling frustrated or they are misbehaving, those experiences can be some lasting memories that your child will not only remember, but will help their personality form as an adult. As parent you have the power to build up your child and make them into a strong, resilient adult, and you also have the power to tear them down. The power is overwhelming and scary, but it can also be the most rewarding.
I would like to thank you, Mrs. McPhaul, for being a teacher who always believed in me, who worked tirelessly with me and all your students over the past 28 years to “build us up.” She is a person who never sees weaknesses as a “weakness,” but only as opportunities to grow and build a future happy and healthy adult. Remember adults (parents or teachers alike); we have the power to change our children’s lives. Will we tear them down or will be build them up? Will we help our children to become resilient adults, who can face adversity effectively? The decision is up to you.