Thoughts & Reflections
We want children to be kind. It’s behind all our attempts to have children apologize, or adult-directed sharing. We want our children to exhibit empathy, to be Woke, to see Self in the Other — we want to see spontaneous kindness.
But how do we teach empathy? If it’s not through “making” children act in a certain way — as is demonstrated by the objections in “but I SAID SORRY!” or “she’s not sharing!” — how do we help children get there from here?
We see this all the time. A child was putting away his work, and a girl bumped into him. He didn’t blink. “Are you okay?” She nodded. As the both walked away, he kept an eye on her, making sure she really was okay.
“A child will embody what is present in their environment.”
A small material fell off a child’s table and rolled a few feet away. She didn’t even have a chance to get up from her table before a passerby noticed, casually picked it up and returned it, and continued on her way.
A child took a tumble while playing outside. His friends all stopped running, came over to check in. Are you okay? Do you want a hug? Can I help you brush off?
This cannot be taught or demanded or expected. This can only be modelled, and internalized, and reciprocated.
A child will embody what is present in their environment. This is not formulaic, they are not computers to be coded, predictable and programmable. There is still free will, which makes it even more moving when a child makes the extra effort to exert spontaneous kindness, when they don’t become defensive and insist it was an accident, or walk by something fallen without noticing or caring, or keep running past a classmate who has fallen. I am Choosing to care for you and for our shared space, and that makes it all the sweeter.
They see us modelling, noticing something out of sorts, excusing ourselves and apologizing when we bump into someone, dusting a child off and offering a tissue and a hug after they’ve fallen.
We can all identify with how those moments feel. We experience others looking out for us, educators and parents, siblings and classmates, caring members of the community, our Village. We’ve all fallen, bumped, dropped, transgressed, accidented, been on the outside. And someone looked out for us. It only takes one, and the dominoes fall. The care and the empathy are paid forward again and again, until there is no other way to be. It starts with us, it never ends.
Written by:Charlotte Wood