The Self-Portrait: How we build self-awareness, identify, individuality and normalize differences
Conversations with children can be many things: enlightening, funny, creative and thoughtful.
Children notice differences around them all the time. They notice changes in their environment, changes in themselves and they absolutely notice when someone doesn’t look or act like them. These are important skills children develop as they mature.
How do we as teachers, parents and role models positively guide our young children to accept their own differences, grow to accept others and view everyone as capable, unique and valued?
Once a month, we have the children draw self-portraits. Some classrooms have the children look at their reflection in a mirror and draw what they see. Other classes look at photographs of themselves and accomplish the same task.
Before the children sit down, we talk about what makes them unique and different from one another. It’s a cool experience to see how our children see themselves, even as young as two and three years old. They are at the stage of development where they are putting detail into their drawings. It’s amazing to see their individuality and creative expression.
Now what do we do with that information? How do we take their understanding of self and help create a deeper foundation of self-awareness and build self-confidence? How do we instill an appreciation of others’ differences and teach children to value abilities?
We can start by having our children say some very simple, yet deeply impactful words: “I am kind. I am smart. I can make good choices. I can do anything I put my mind to!” It’s easiest to acknowledge these qualities in others when we can first believe them within ourselves.
I would like to share a short story with you. A child walked into my classroom one day and with bright eyes and a wide smile she said, “do you like my pretty dress? I wore a pretty pink dress today!” My reply went as such (with as equally bright eyes and a wide smile), I said, “That is a pretty dress, but do you know what I like more than the dress? I like the person who is wearing it!” She smiled and skipped away but what happened there was that while I still valued the likes of the child, I acknowledged that it’s more important to notice who a person is, not simply how they look.
A self-portrait expresses a lot about how we value ourselves and how we want to be seen by others. Everyone wants to be valued, seen and appreciated for who they are and what their capabilities are rather than their struggles. We can each play a role in helping children find their voice and celebrate what makes us each incredible and amazing.
Rena Rosen is a JCC Early Childhood educator at Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie. Rena is also a Seed613 (formerly PresenTense) alum and the creator of Art of Compassion, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a higher level of acceptance, appreciation and understanding of physical differences among parents and children in our community.