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Early Social Education For Children

By Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

In her post on May 11 entitled “Empowering Children to Realize Their Potential for Good” Connie Grier asks what parents can do to help our children remember that they always have a role in preventing or allowing bullying, and she provides a number of excellent suggestions.  As I reread the article today, an experience I had a year ago popped to mind that made me think differently about teaching children to be socially picassa 3responsible.

Kathy, Franklyn and Connor, ages 18, 20 and 48 months respectively were playing on the other side of a floor-to-ceiling plate glass wall in a small playroom equipped with a climbing structure in the parish hall of a church.

After a good half-hour of playing on their own—climbing stairs, looking out windows, sliding down slides, running clockwise around the structure, running counter-clockwise around the structure, ducking into nooks, squeezing through crannies, pulling their little bodies up by their hands, Connor decided he needed a check-in with Martha the baby-sitter, who was sitting at a café table ten feet from the door watching all this and sipping coffee.

The door separating them, which to me was big and heavy and hard to open, was to him enormous and massive and required all his effort. Undaunted, however, Connor pushed against it and succeeded in squeezing through. Connor covered the ten feet to Martha in no time, but three feet from her chair, Martha jumped up and rushed to the door because Connor’s little brother Franklyn, who follows Connor everywhere, was caught. The door had shut on him just as he was halfway through.

No tears, and the two brothers stood by Martha with one hand on each knee. Suddenly, Connor made for the door. He had noticed Kathy pushing on the door to get out. Martha was wise enough to let Connor be the rescuer this time. She matter-of-factly said, “Good job, Connor.”

Watching Connor at age 4 one might say—in common parlance—that Connor has been “taught empathy.”

In talking with Martha, however, I learned that it’s not that way. It would be truer to say that Connor’s natural empathy had found many useful expressions thus far in the course of his four years of life. Martha claims to have done no more or less than the kind of thing I just witnessed.

Connor has been one of Martha’s babies ever since she began baby-sitting three years ago. In an hour of watching Martha’s charges, I noticed dozens of examples of empathy in action. Here’s another one:

After 15 minutes of playing in the playroom, all three were out the door again wanting a drink. Two-year-old Franklyn took one of two sippy cups that stood on the table, but as he brought it up to his lips he saw Kathy. Turning back to the table, he picked up the other cup and gave it to her. The two walked away from the table together sipping, and Martha didn’t even bother to comment on this remarkable act of thoughtfulness.

Children map the social world onto their brain just as they map their linguistic world. If the name of the game in their world during their first five years is about taking care of each other, and if kindness and cooperation are the norm in their first seven years of school then Connie Grier’s great lessons will make a big difference, her words will land on the right ears at the right time and be educational. If, however, those words enter minds that have been trying negotiate unsafe or uncertain environments in their early years, they will fall among thorns with a low probability of making a difference.

90% of anti-bullying education needs to be in the “ounce of prevention” department. If children experience themselves as valuable contributors to the family, and if they feel that they are powerful participants in the social climate of their school, it is a very short step to getting them to stand up for a victim or confront a perpertrator. Otherwise, Connie's words of wisdom about what we should say to kids are not too little, but they might be too late.


Posted on December 5, 2012 by Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with forty-five years of experience working in schools. He has served as head of four independent schools, speaks to parent and school groups across the country and presents at numerous education conferences. Rick is the author of The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity and Creativity in Children and lives in Decatur, Illinois. Visit his blog, The Genius in Children, or follow him on Facebook and  Twitter.

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Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , Bullying Prevention, Character Development, Cooperation, Empathy, Study Skills

 

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