The Power of Suggestion

By Jan Gaffney  – Principal

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you for Matariki on Friday, but I hear it was a great day, and the hakari at night went well.  Our next school community event is a presentation from the Brainwave Trust talking about the developing brain from 8 years old onwards.  Brainwave’s focus is on providing education about the vast potential within each child and how we as parents can help to bring it out.  Maria Montessori talked about this a lot also.

Another thing Montessori often talked about was being careful about what was said around children and the need to be extra careful when they could hear, or even see that they were being talked about. She counselled teachers not to talk ‘ill of the child’, whether the child was present or not. There is a very good reason for this.

When a teacher talks ill of a child, he or she is reinforcing an idea of how she/he believes the child to be, and this can then become a fall-back position as to how the teacher feels the child ‘always’ is. This is something teachers  are supposed to avoid; each day we are supposed to come to the class with a clean slate, receiving the child daily as though nothing bad/wrong/inappropriate (call it what you will), has happened.

When we speak ill of a child, we reinforce to ourselves a usually negative perception and each time we do so, it becomes more entrenched. Then, when we see that behaviour occur again, we say, “Oh yes, that’s just what they are like”, further and further attributing certain behaviours as being natural to that child, which soon enough becomes reality, as the child takes his/her cue from the teacher.

This happens too, when we as parents, speak about a child when they are near, inadvertently reinforcing certain concepts, traits or characteristics that they then make part of themselves. When we say in front of them:

She worries so much about….
He doesn’t like broccoli / vegetables / Sarah, etc
She is very shy
He is very / not so good at math / writing / reading / singing / drawing, etc
She is feeling very grumpy this morning
He is feeling a bit sick, so you can ring me if he needs to come home
She is such a good / bad / disorganised / scatter-brained / messy child

All of these things encourage the child to believe they cannot be any different than what is being said about them, and in the long run, this is not helpful to them at all. A child who is quiet and needs time to warm up can be just that. Giving the label ‘shy’ can become a trait that they take on as a personal view of themselves and can become an impediment to their feeling comfortable in social situations for the rest of their life.

Similarly, when we talk about a child not being good at art or maths in front of them, we give them the idea that we think that is the case. Since we are adults and know so much more, what we say must be right, and so the child believes what we say, and makes that an integral part of who they are and what they can or can’t do. When we do this in front of children, we limit them, and I’m sure you will agree, that that is the last thing we want to do!

This is easier said than done I know (from experience!!), but if we are mindful, maybe we can do it less.