Updated: Apr 19
Every child needs a charismatic adult in his life, someone from whom to gather strength. Whether this person is a parent, relative, teacher, or coach; whether a child has one or two or even more in his life—these are not important details. What matters is that at least one such person exists to give a child an edge.
Search your growing-up memories. Who gave you the kind word or encouraging smile at a critical time? Can you recall an emotional ache, a silent scream for someone—anyone in authority—to notice you and give you approval? Your children and all other children know exactly how you felt then. Try to remember yourself. Such personal involvement by a charismatic, encouraging adult even helps insulate children from drug use and other delinquency.
How can one person make such a difference? By giving a child the emotional permission to believe in himself or herself. Of course, faking it won’t make it. Telling Susie she is the best soccer player on her team when she is a liability whenever the ball gets near her, or Johnny that his piano playing is divine when it crinkles the wallpaper, can have two outcomes—neither of them good. Either the child realizes that you are being untruthful and begins to discount everything you say, or believes you and develops the mother of all persecution complexes since no one else recognizes his or her marvelous talent. Instead, pay close enough attention so that you can see where actual progress has been made and praise the effort the child put into making the advance. This teaches that obstacles are real but many can be overcome with work and patience.
Providing a “yes-I-can” attitude for a child is a big deal. It’s what leads to resiliency. Kids’ abilities to rebound from setbacks is a key to success in an increasingly complex world. And while all children need resiliency, it is critical for those with low self-esteem, especially those who have learning or behavioral disabilities or whose home lives are unstable. What every child needs, and especially these kids, is to look in your eyes and see home, not despair, encouragement rather than disappointment.
While a parent is the most obvious candidate to be the charismatic
adult in a child’s life, most of us can vouch that a teacher is often
the adult who makes a difference. Teachers are perfectly positioned because they cannot only help a child believe in himself but can also provide situations where he can taste success.
Every child has something at which she can be successful. If her violin teacher despairs, how about art lessons? If team sports produce tears and bench time, explore individual athletic events. The successful teacher—and we all are teachers—matches ability with opportunity. A vast majority of those connections can and should happen at home. Celebrate reading a book, feeding the dog, washing the car, making cookies, committing random acts of kindness. Parents, teachers, neighbors, church school teachers, youth leaders, pastors, youth ministers, music ministers, uncles and aunts, bus stop buddies—the list of those who can be a significant, charismatic adult for a child in the corridor who seems all alone at church.
Call their names. That says you know them and to you, they are important. The solution for young people who can’t seem to find direction in life is for someone like you to show them the way. I had such a charismatic adult, my elementary and junior high school principal, Robert K. Hancock. He encouraged me to see beyond the cotton mills of Gastonia, NC. He said I could soar when others would walk. He said I could sing when others would only mutter.
And then he made me believe him. I was a second grader, lugging the lunch plates from our classroom back to the kitchen when he made the first lasting contribution to who I would become. As I descended a long staircase, I fell, scattering dishes in all directions. I jumped up—and saw Mr. Hancock standing beside me. He didn’t say a word. He brushed me off, made sure I was not hurt, helped me gather up the plates and sent me on my way.
No embarrassing. questions – just compassion, understanding, and concern. He would drop into classrooms to teach, and to this day I consciously pattern my teaching style to his. He would call the entire student body together to listen to classical music. Classical music! In junior high school! Copies of great works of art decorated the entrance hall. Mr. Hancock taught us that learning knows no boundaries and that most of our limitations are self-imposed. He pushed us to our intellectual limits and then gently took our hands and walked with us to the other side of our self-imposed boundaries.
While others described the anchors that held me to earth, R.K. Hancock opened to me the wind and clouds that lifted me aloft.
Seek charismatic, energetic, encouraging teachers for your children; help your children’s teachers be that way by encouraging them; and find a way to be that adult for your children, and someone else’s. Don’t wait for a “big program” to fix the ills you
see. Invest some of your life in another’s. The big problem will begin to shrink—at the same time another life begins to loom large.
Written by Michael C. Blackwell, President/CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer)