Class is about to begin and one of the students, Wendy, starts to talk about her brother. She tells us that he is very naughty. Sometimes he hits her and their grandmother, he likes to throw tantrums and can be just uncontrollable. This 6 year old girl shares with us her way of calming him down which usually involves entertaining him to distraction but feels that it is no longer working so well. This seems a little like group therapy but I look at the other students who are calmly listening and decide this is a perfect opportunity to affirm and give an example of consideration. A teachable moment! Instead of asking her to keep her personal life to herself or to share at a “better time”, we take this young girls issue as a topic of discussion.
It is a delicate issue because even young children are sensitive to criticism and resist being boxed into a good/bad dichotomy and with good reason. Even before students get into my program, parents are busy setting limits and defining the world for their children. “No” is probably the word most often said to them as they begin to explore themselves and their environment and this is reflected in the fact the word most often cited as the first spoken by infants all over the world is “no”. Children are expected to obey for the sake of safety and well being and when they do not there is a punishment. A very big “NO” which becomes synonymous with bad and they can really learn to resent it. Children need and, yes, even want to be disciplined but parents must do it with consideration. This means not always saying no or always defining the world in terms of good and bad.
To be sure there is a time for everything including a time to say no and some things are just plain bad. However, discipline when conducted with consideration is always reasonable. We want children to learn to obey because there are rules and limits in society which we must all abide by if we are to get along successfully. How a parent disciplines can determine the child’s sense of security and well being. Whether and how often you discipline and or punish your child will determine their ability to self-limit, self-regulate and make decisions. But make no mistake about it, having consideration does not mean allowing your children to behave in an unacceptable manner nor does it mean that a child can reason on the same level as an adult. It is to teach them by example how to think about what they are doing, to share with them how their behavior makes you and others feel and help them to see that there are standards and limits.
To be considerate means to reason upon a decision by putting other persons interests first and it is best taught by example. Before you discipline or punish your child do you ask yourself if you have set clear limits and expectations that your child understands? Do you question your own motives and incentives before (ab) using your authority? Do you wonder why they are acting ‘that way’ in the first place? If they are old enough to express themselves do you ask them what they are doing and why? Reason with them as far as you can and then take it further. This is consideration in action. As a parent you are the ultimate authority in their lives and if you use that authority with consideration, they will certainly respect you even when you have to punish them.
My class is a class of 5 and 6 year olds and the course is focused on speaking and social/emotional development tailored to teach qualities like respect and consideration. What does each quality mean? When I design curriculum and lesson plans, this is the fundamental question and I try to set up situations where these qualities will naturally be called for. It must be natural because the children have to feel these qualities are necessary and within their ability. Wendy felt so bad about being unable to help her brother but we were happy to hear her out and offer some understanding and advice as a group. This was not part of the lesson plan but Wendy’s dilemma was a wonderful opportunity not just to show consideration but also to exercise good listening skills and problem solving.
At home you parents have every opportunity to provide these lessons and young children the loving creatures they are will give every chance needed to be taught. Being considerate of others helps us to show appreciation for the relationships we have, it gives a sense of justice to our existence and a responsibility not just for our behavior but for the well-being of others. For consideration to develop as a behavior pattern it must be valued, practiced and affirmed consistently because while it is reasonable it is not a natural behavior. It must be taught.
So here are some tips and a little advice on how to make consideration a part of your household:
- Discuss with your partner and any other caregiver basic rules and standards for practicing consideration. You the parents and the nanny if you have one are ground zero. If you and/or nanny are not considerate, neither will your child be.
- Take every opportunity you have to show consideration for others and share your experience in real time. Say thank you to the shop keeper, make sure if the child drops or spills that they see you try to clean it up and if they are old enough have them clean up too. Hold open the door for others and point out the appreciative response.
- Children like to please and you should capitalize on that by getting them to think more about which behaviors affect others and in what way. If your child likes to throw their food all over the kitchen, point out the mess and have them help clean it up. If your child likes to throw tantrums, explain how that makes you feel and how much less likely they are going to get what they are asking for if they continue.
- Remember it is never too early to begin teaching consideration and it is always an ongoing process. Sometimes we forget or are not in the mood. We can always say sorry and begin being considerate where we left off. We are not perfect but we should be consistent. That would be considerate.