One of the many great things about living in a democratic society, is that we all have rights and opinions. Recognizing however, that WE all have rights and opinions, also comes the understanding that my neighbor, friend, coworker, or peer also has rights and opinions that may be DIFFERENT from mine. And that’s okay. We all come from different backgrounds and walks in life which influences our perspectives and opinions. I love the opportunity to be able to have those conversations with my colleagues that help me to see their perspective. I may not embrace their opinion, but I can certainly respect it and accept that they have valid reasons for it…and understand and appreciate them even more! But this is really a very difficult thing to teach preschoolers. Young children are, by nature, egocentric. They have a viewpoint from THEIR perspective from which they operate. AND they have difficulty taking another’s perspective. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t teach “other” perspective or that they can’t learn from others. In this post, I will discuss a couple of ways to promote respecting the rights and opinions of others.
- We begin by modeling “Do what I do” is much more powerful than “do what I say”, right? The essential, most fundamental, most important, aspect of developing self-regulation in young children, is empathy. Empathy is knowing how others are feeling. And when someone has empathy for me, I learn that someone cares. I might also hear “feeling” vocabulary. I learn the facial expressions and the gestures that accompany those words. I learn how it feels for someone to care about me and my feelings.
- From infants to grown-ups, we can simply reflect another’s feelings. You are really upset. You are so excited that you did it by yourself. You are very sad that she doesn’t want to be your friend. You’re upset that you didn’t get invited to the party. It’s so easy…but yet, we frequently skip this step–a ten second step to show the other person you know how they feel.
- Another strategy is inform the child how “others” are affected by their behavior…but matter-of-factly. No shaming here because that only defeats your purpose. “I’m really concerned that others may not want to play with you if you use hurtful words.” “Jaxon didn’t like it when you said that to him.” Additionally, what’s even more powerful, is to have an injured child tell the offender how his behavior made him feel.
- Children love puppet shows…even impromptu ones. The perspective of a cow and a pig might be quite different when discussing their favorite place to play. To have puppets act out a scenario that happened just a few minutes earlier in the block area, can be very intriguing! And it can be very surprising the insight that children can have!
- Want to try something a little more benign? Find a beautiful work of art (maybe about your topic of study) or a photograph that evokes feelings. Try an “art appreciation” exercise: Ask children to tell you how it makes them feel. Make a list of children’s names and their identified feeling. Or ask them to tell a story about the picture. “Stories” for children may only be 1 to 3 sentences….so you aren’t asking for a novel here! But the point is, that we can begin to learn that different perspectives are a fact of life.
- Ask children’s perspectives and opinions about all sorts of things: what they think this book is about, how that story made them feel, what do they think will happen, how do you think the turtle in this story felt, how do you think Goldilocks felt when she got lost, how do you think Baby Bear felt when he found his chair broken to pieces?
So, while children are egocentric, we can do a lot to develop empathy. From what I’ve experienced this week, I think the world could use more empathy…more caring for others…and less thinking about themselves! I’d love to hear if you other ways to teach empathy to young children! Stay tuned for more about teaching “democratic principles”…respecting and following rules!