Rooms That Click With Kids
The Hidden Value Of Portraits

 If a picture is really worth more than 10,000 words, then imagine a child's feeling of well being when he sees his own image reflected all around the house.

Strategically placed family photos are an effective way to reinforce your child's self-image and self-confidence. Visual reminders of school events, family trips and everyday activities with friends are proof positive to a child that he or she has a meaningful place in the lives of others.

"It's important not only to be photographed in ways that indicate caring, nurturing, love and success, but also to see those images and take them in," says David Krauss, Ph.D., co-author with Jerry Fryear, Ph.D., of Photo Therapy in Mental Health.

The Cleveland clinical psychologist, who often uses client portraits and snapshots in therapy, advocates going through family albums with children from time to time to give them a clear vision of their growth and change, and to provide them with a sense of personal history. Photos should be displayed, Krauss says, because kids who see themselves on view, feel loved and valued.

The idea of a family photo gallery particularly appeals to Krauss. "What it says to a child is 'I'm important in this family to the extent my parents acknowledge and honor my presence with wall space.'" It also shows a child that he or she belongs there and is meaningfully connected to Mom or Dad and others pictured.

When it comes to displaying photographs, there's no right or wrong place, assures a University of Tennessee researcher who has spent the past three years studying the meaning and exhibition of family photographs.

"We need to get photos out and enjoy them more," says Anna Mae Kobbe, Ph.D., of Knoxville. "They are especially important in a child's room because they supply someone young with tangible security."

Through surveys and interviews, Kobbe discovered that images of the whole family enjoying life evoke a strong sense of self, and that a visible picture of faraway friends or relatives helps the viewer feel more connected to that person. This is important, the family educator observes, since many children live at a distance from grandparents and other relatives.

As a society, Prof. Kobbe contends we expect too much happiness from outside influences, including drugs and other people. "We really need to convey to children that contentment comes from within," she says. "Photographs of good times get that message across, since they help kids recapture moments of happiness, even on dreary days."

Echoing Kobbe's opinions is child psychotherapist Stephanie Marston, whose seminars and books offer parents strategies for enhancing their children's self-esteem. In The Magic of Encouragement, Marston suggests placing two pictures next to the child's bed. One should show him or her happily engaged in a favorite activity; the other should show family togetherness.

According to Marston , research shows that the 30-minute period just before bed is when children are most receptive - when they listen and absorb more than any other time. "Put photos of your kids being capable and loved next to their beds," she deduces, "and these positive images are likely to be the last things they see before they sleep, and the first thing they see when they awaken." She concludes that these important pictures help to reinforce a child's sense of being both capable and loved - the two keys to high self-esteem.

Encouraging children to view, study, and describe their own photos, Marston continues, is an excellent way to communicate that each person is unique. And showing a child personal baby pictures also can help to alleviate jealousy of a newborn sibling. She contends that if babies see their own images, they get to know themselves and she advises placing a portrait image above the changing table, for example, and amusing the baby by pointing out his eyes, ears, nose, etc. When the baby recognizes the picture is his image, it's a joyful moment.

San Francisco designer Ralph Frischman had this in mind when he co-designed a nursery with a series of baby's portraits enlarged and framed. "In a child's room," he says, "you don't need to be cutesy with wallpapers or themes. Photographs can make it come alive and still be fun.

Whether formal family portraits or informal snapshots, photographs are mighty communicators about the people, places and things that shape our lives. Share and cultivate the experience with a child, and watch more than pictures develop!

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