At all ages, young people may be the subject of mean behaviours from others. We see it on the playground: the process whereby some children systematically shut others out, not allowing them to join in the group. This issue is seen through all grade levels. We need to increase our own, and our children’s awareness about what is really going on. The damage that can be done to another’s self-esteem can be more severe and long lasting than a physical injury.
I have worked with many adults who still feel the intense pain that they experienced at the hands of insensitive peers. As parents, we teach our children how to be gentle with animals, and how to handle fragile items with care, but because the feelings of others are less visible, teaching about honouring others is often overlooked.
Children may not be exposed to good models of behaviour that respects others, or worse, may be repeatedly observing disrespectful communications in the home.
We need to understand, and teach some basic principles including the following:
l All people have value, regardless of their skills, abilities, dress, possessions, language or culture;
l Judging others produces distance and pain;
l Saying or doing hurtful things diminishes us more than the one we hurt;
l It is never OK to be deliberately hurtful; there is always a peaceful way to make our point;
l We are here to help and support one another.
We need a stronger focus on teaching positive values. A person can have all the intelligence, skill or money in the world, but without an understanding of these principles they cannot have peace or happiness.
Of course, this begins at home, and children can be taught from an early age to avoid behaviours that are damaging to others. If they are old enough to learn to be gentle with the flowers in the garden, they are old enough to be gentle with others. If they see others stomping on flowers however, they may model that. Similarly, it doesn’t work to teach them to be kind to others, if they observe us stomping on the feelings of others (or theirs).
As parents, we must begin to monitor our own behaviours, and if we would not be comfortable saying or doing something in the middle of the school playground, then perhaps we shouldn’t be doing or saying it at home. We can begin modelling kindness to others even if it is not reciprocated, because change has to begin somewhere.
Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.