The Blank Slate Myth

Well, now, there are myths, and then there are myths.

Some myths could be called quaintly eccentric. You know, like the one about storks delivering babies. Some might argue the stork myth visits confusion upon the innocent, but it’s more charming than problematic.

Other myths, however, take us deep into unintended consequences territory. Damage happens, and it’s not pretty. Foremost among these damaging myths is the one that says children are a blank slate to be shaped by parents–usually to attain their parents’ dreams.

I tell you true, kids are anything BUT a blank slate. They come out of the chute with the personality, intelligence and energy to do what they were born to do. As parents, our job is to figure out exactly who our kids are and what they have to offer so we can encourage them along the way.

In other words, you get what you get, so deal with it.

But the blank slate crowd believes they have a choice in these matters. If they think shyness gets in the way of life, for instance, they decide any child of theirs will be as gregarious as all get out, and they will make it happen.

So when Shy Sally comes along, they set to work. Perhaps they punish our gal Sal for not being what they want her to be. Or maybe they criticize, even belittle. But one way or another–envision pursed lips at a minimum–they let little Sally know she doesn’t measure up.

Well, now, see, that gets it absolutely backwards. Letting Sally know she’s not good enough surely won’t encourage her to grow and flourish. Instead, it does damage. Major damage.

Children always know when you disapprove of them. If it’s about something they do, they can understand. And they can act on it. They might not get with the program and stop doing whatever it is, of course, but they know you want them to knock it off.

But they don’t have a clue when you disapprove of their basic traits, such as personality. They don’t know how they got to be the way they are, how it compares to others, the promise that lies within–none of it. They just showed up that way, and the way they are is all they know. They couldn’t change it if they wanted to.

But they know that for some reason or another, Mom and/or Dad doesn’t like them. And it sets them adrift.

So the blank slate crowd shouldn’t expect their kids to have confidence, make good decisions or be anywhere close to all they can be. Instead of raising Superman or Wonder Woman, they raise emotionally needy kids looking for somebody to love them.

The blank slate crowd completely misses out on the fun of getting to know their kids for who they are.

Little kids are God’s greatest invention. Helping them figure out all they have going for them makes the heart sing. Watching them soar as adults pops your buttons and makes your eyes leak with pride.

Why would anybody want to miss all that by trying to force kids into a mold that doesn’t fit?

Especially since we’re not talking rocket science here.

Look for things to celebrate instead of criticize. Say, for instance, “Wow! That’s great! God sure loaded you up with really good stuff! I can hardly wait for us to discover all of it! WooHoo!” Grinning widely as you speak, of course.

Fact is, you get all happy when people you love say positive things about you. How much more a child who hasn’t yet acquired any defenses against criticism?


God is good,
Bette Dowdell


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