Updated: Jun 12
In these crazy times when we can't seem to find peace anywhere, we have to remember that it starts in the home and that it starts with our youngest. What a huge responsibility that is.
Appreciation, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and humility. These things can all be taught to very, very young children, just as hate, cruelty, jealousy, and violence can. People don't always realize just how early this all begins.
A 1997 study from the University of California at Berkeley shows that children as young as 18 mos. can demonstrate empathy. They are able to see a researchers' perspective and respond appropriately, even if it's not their own view.
So what are some things we can do to actively teach empathy to young children? Here's the shortlist.
1. Teach young children to communicate their feelings assertively.
2. Teach young children to respect other people's bodies and their feelings.
3. Teach young children to understand and control their impulses.
4. Teach young children that, All feelings are OK. All actions and /or words are not.
Then set the example and do those things yourself. Children are born with mirror neurons that cause them to learn by copying what they see.
One good way to model positive assertiveness is to use "I" messages as much as possible. And that includes owning up to our own feelings instead of resorting to blame. Here are some examples of how we can use "I" messages to teach assertiveness.
I don't let anyone hit me.
I cook one meal and you are welcome to eat it or not.
I pull the car over when there's too much noise and/or chaos for me to hear the sounds of traffic.
I need 1/2 hour of alone time every evening after dinner.
I love to go to parks and playgrounds with children who listen so well and appreciate a good time.
I always say please and thank you without being reminded to do so and I expect you to do the same.
I love reading stories with you every evening so I'm going to set a limit of 3 stories or 3 chapters in a chapter book so I don't start feeling like it's not fun anymore. When the third story is almost done, I'll remind you that it's the last and I won't change my mind no matter how much you ask me to.
A good term to use when teaching young children to respect other people's bodies is "Be gentle." It kind of says it all in a positive way which always seems to work better with little ones.
For impulse control, the best thing to do isn't always very easy, It's to watch them very carefully and give them a quick alternative to save face before the hitting or impulsive behavior happens. "Look there's another ball you can play with!"
Do that often enough and they'll learn to stop themselves to look for a better solution. We need to build on that.
Playing "freeze dance" can help with body control, too.
If we're going to expect any kind of peaceful behavior from our children we have to do more than just give time outs for hitting. We need to actively teach peace. We can teach young children to problem-solve and we can teach them to stop and think before they act.
When the young children in my classroom are all engaged and getting along well, I point that out. I tell them that this is what peace feels like and that they created it. They deserve to know that. And they behave so much better when they know what I want to see them do.
When we consistently teach them that there is a better way of getting what they want, they begin to believe it!
Thanks for stopping by and reading this today, I hope it raises your spirits a bit and helps you feel good about your children because you deserve it. Have some fun on my website
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Nanci J Bradley BS MA, 60+, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI