Ages and stages of nurturing empowerment

How to build an empowered adult by starting early.

Michigan State University Extension has a wealth of information regarding building healthy families. One thing for parents to think about is how to help their children attain a sense of empowerment, beginning when they are small and nurturing this skill throughout their childhood.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the word empower means:

 1) To give official authority or legal power, and 2) To promote the self-actualization or influence of. Synonyms include; enabling; or equipping. The first known use was 1648.

Dr. Stephen Bavolek describes this as “personal power” in his Nurturing Parenting Programs. Personal power is not how physically strong you are, it is how capable we are in getting our needs met in desirable ways and influencing conditions in our lives. It is linked to our self-worth and in turn, affects how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.

Why is empowerment or personal power important? According to Bavolek in young children it helps them to get their needs met. It helps them express their feelings; positive and negative, in appropriate ways. “I like applesauce.” “I don’t like it when my brother takes my toy from me!” Personal power helps children establish personal body boundaries. Parents can help by talking to children and letting them assist in daily self-care instead of just doing things to them or for them, such as dressing and bathing. “You put your arms in your shirt, I will help you get your head in, and then you pull it down over your belly.” Or you could try handing them the wash cloth to wash themselves at bath time, or their face after eating. This way you are giving them the feeling that they have power over what happens to their bodies, which is a very important personal safety skill for life.

As children mature a sense of empowerment can be nurtured from the seeds of being able to meet their basic needs to being able to use their personal power to work toward the betterment of others. According to the Search Institute, parents and communities can help this by assuring children feel valued and appreciated, including them in family decisions and giving them opportunities to help others in the community. In fact, involving children in household chores and even volunteering in the community helps them to experience a sense of civic engagement and the ability to make a difference. They get the message that they are a valuable member of their family and community. Michigan 4-H Youth Group programs are designed to engage youth and foster a sense of empowerment.

Kelly Curtis, author of Empowering Youth, when talking about empowering teens uses the analogy of a three-legged stool. Teens need opportunity to reach their full potential. Teens need skills to be able to make their dreams a reality and to experience success. And finally, teens need adults who can trust them with their new opportunities and skills and begin the process of letting go.

Most importantly when we work on empowering our children, they eventually become self-sufficient adults capable of making the world a better place for them and for the rest of us.

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