Many parents think that it’s premature to teach values to a toddler or preschooler. But that’s a misconception. There are five values that all children should develop by their fifth birthday, and some ways to make them stick.
Those values are: Honesty; Justice; Determination; Consideration; and Love. I will address each one in a separate blog, so look for all five blogs. Today we will explore the second of these values, Justice.
Value #2: Justice – Insist That Children Make Amends.
At a recent family gathering, Amy and Marcus, 4-year-old cousins, were making castles out of wooden blocks. Suddenly, Amy knocked over Marcus’s castle, and he started to cry. Witnessing the scene, Amy’s father chided his daughter and ordered her to apologize. Amy dutifully said, “I’m sorry.” Then her dad took her aside and asked, “Do you know why you pushed over his blocks?”
She told him that she was mad because Marcus’s castle was bigger than hers. Her dad told her that though this was no excuse for destroying her cousin’s castle, he could understand her feelings. He then sent her back to play.
The father’s reaction was similar to that of many psychologically savvy parents: He wanted his daughter to identify and express her feelings and to understand why she behaved as she did. That’s okay, but it isn’t enough. In order to help children internalize a true sense of justice, parents need to encourage them to take some action to remedy a wrong. For example, Amy’s dad might have suggested that she help Marcus rebuild his castle or that she bring him some cookies as a gesture of apology.
Saying “I’m sorry” is pretty easy for a child, and it lets her off the hook without forcing her to think. Having a child make amends in a proactive way conveys a much stronger message. If you’re aware that your child has acted badly toward someone, help him think of a way to compensate. Maybe he can give one of his trucks to a playmate whose toy he has damaged.
Perhaps he could draw a picture for his sister after teasing her all day. By encouraging your child to make such gestures, you emphasize the importance of treating people fairly – an essential value that will one day help him negotiate the complicated world of peer-group relationships.
Having a child is a great gift – but also a big responsibility. Give some of these suggestions a try. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Adapted from an article in Parents Magazine.
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