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Anni Hisey | It’s a tragedy when a child’s identity is ‘stolen’

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Isn’t it an indignity when someone robs your identity? You spend countless hours writing emails, waiting on hold to talk to a “Privacy Control Specialist” of some sort, and fretting about whether you have neglected to secure any forgotten accounts. Not to mention, you may be liable for charges you didn’t make and penalties for missing payments you didn’t know were due. And in the long run, identity theft can really mess with your credit score.

How much more far-reaching is it when our children are victims of identity theft? I’m not referring to their bank accounts being compromised, nor their online passwords being stolen. No, I’m talking about their true identity being misrepresented so much that they don’t even know who they are.

I don’t believe there are bad children. This may sound naïve, but I am convinced each child is born with an intrinsic goodness, a higher self. If nurtured, the child may be directed to appreciate and aspire to this goodness. All too often, however, children come to believe they are less than good — they are lazy, rude, incompetent, and a host of other maladies which encourage them to act accordingly.

False identity is pervasive, and it’s everywhere. When children view TV shows depicting snarky kids who talk back, roll their eyes, and generally buck authority, what are they to believe? If they hear grown-ups venting about how exhausting it is to care for them, what message do they take to heart?

So how can loving parents, guardians, and teachers help their youngsters to possess a healthier sense of self? We can start by reminding them of their inner goodness. Not with compliments meant to boost self-esteem (those types of “pats on the back” often seem shallow), but with quiet affirmations of who they truly are. “You are a good person, and I am glad to know you” can go a really long way.

Not that we should ignore misbehavior. If your child kicked the dog in a moment of anger, it must be addressed. But consider how empowering it would sound to a child if s/he heard: “Whoa. You aren’t a mean person. You are a kind and good person. Kicking the dog is not what you are about.” Wouldn’t it be easier for your child to make things right with Fido, and to think a bit longer before acting out the next time?

One of my students, Abbey (not her real name) is an expert at this. If someone offends her at school and then apologizes, this sweet-hearted third-grader graciously says, “It’s OK. I know you didn’t mean it.” What a gift she gives her classmates! She assumes they are good, and when they mess up, she acknowledges that it was a departure from who they are. Her forgiveness, trust, and confidence in them inspire such goodwill that they get back to working together as if nothing ever happened. And perhaps the best part is that I have overheard my own daughter saying the same thing at home — Abbey’s attitude is contagious!

Children will believe what we tell them about themselves. When they act out, we can list all the ways they are bad … but at what cost? We might be stealing their true identity. Instead, let’s remind them of how good they really are, and watch as they prove us right.

Anni Hisey operates Academic Associates Learning Center and Joyful Scholars Montessori Elementary. She can be reached at