Monday, October 2, 2017

C'mon People Now

Say what you will about the Boomer generation, we had the best music.  The title of this post is from a song by Buffalo Springfield that was playing through my head as I wrote.  Check it out, it's worth it.

Teaching social skills is a core component of early childhood education.  Polite behavior is not innate, it is a learned skill.  When children misbehave, we assume that they have not yet learned socially acceptable means of solving their problems or meeting their needs.  A two year old who wants a toy that his playmate has is likely to grab it directly or hit his playmate til he gets it.  He's not a bully; certainly not a bad boy.  He simply doesn't know a better way of getting what he wants.  It's the job of the adults in his life to teach him.  We use words to identify his problem, then feed him words that can help him get what he wants peacefully.  "You want to play with the helicopter.  You can't hit, but you can use your words.  You can say, 'Can I please play with the helicopter?'.  Many children will hand over the toy after this exchange, and we simultaneously praise them and model a "thank you".   If a child isn't ready to hand over the toy, we can model negotiating:  "Okay, when you are done, your friend will have the next turn".

Words are powerful.  The words that we choose can affect the world for good or for bad.  Think about our reaction to a whiny, "I want apple juice", compared to a calm, "Can I please have some apple juice?".  Kind, respectful words effect kind, respectful responses.  Part of our job as parents and teachers is to guide our children to use their words in positive ways.  We keep in mind that they are learning.  If they mess up, it's because they don't  know better yet.

 Adults won't typically hit someone with whom they have an issue, but they might use violent language.  I sometimes wonder if these adults simply got stuck at an early developmental stage. Maybe no one took the time to teach them the power of words.  Words can bring us closer to our goals or put up barriers.  They can make our environment pleasant or uncomfortable.  As children we used to chant, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."  We were so wrong!  Words can hurt deeply. Victims of emotional or verbal abuse sometimes think, "Just hit me and get it over with".  The pain of a slap goes away faster than the emotional scars of hateful words. 

I believe that training ourselves to speak only positively, particularly about other people, will make us happy.  We look for the good in everyone we meet. If someone speaks badly about our friend, we can speak up and point out her good qualities.  Making a practice of defending people will discourage others from gossipping to us.  We'll develop a more optimistic outlook.  On the other hand, remaining silent hurts everyone; just like standing by when someone is bullied.

There is so much hateful, divisive language on the news and social media today.  Fighting hate with hate is unproductive at best and dangerous at worst.  Negatively name-calling those with different opinions spurs hate and division.  It's emotional bullying and reflects an incapacity to express oneself properly.  People who resort to name-calling are probably developmentally stuck.  It's hard to tolerate that ignorance in adults because we assume they should know better.   But they might not.  They may have skipped some important lessons in early childhood. 

 People have good intentions. They mean well.  Very few really want to cause harm.  They may struggle to express themselves in a better way.  That should motivate us all the more to speak from a place of kindness and respect.   Again, these thoughts are expressed so well in music.  Listen to this beautiful song by Dave Mason, "We Just Disagree" and think about it the next time someone says something stupid or mean.

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