I am currently taking an online course for professional development entitled “Children’s Challenging Behaviors.” I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I have endured plenty of boring and unhelpful PD over the years. This course has really made me think. And it will definitely make a difference in how I interact with children in the future.
One of the sections discusses how early childhood is a time to lay the groundwork for developing a capacity for respect. The author of this particular section holds that a basic quality for being able to respect others is empathy - - being able to put oneself in another’s shoes, imagine how they are feeling. Young children are developmentally egocentric. They need to learn how to step outside themselves. This is a challenge for them. It takes time, They need support as they find their way from a self-only world view to one that allows for the feelings and concerns of others.
This is why social/emotional learning is such an enormously valuable part of the early childhood experience.
Looking at the news today I see three local stories where adults have clearly not mastered that shift from self-centeredness to respect.
- In a recent meeting of the CAC, some parents showed a lack of concern for the basic civil rights of trans students because of their own uncomfortable feelings around bathroom use.
- On the County Executive’s Facebook page a commenter pokes fun of the concept that Federal workers are experiencing economic hardship during the shutdown because of her personal belief that all Federal Workers are highly paid professionals who live in expensive houses.
- Larry Walker of the African American Community Roundtable wrote this morning of two of the students of who defaced Glenelg High School with hate speech looking to have their actions reclassified as constitutionally protected free speech.
In all three cases we see a profound lack of empathy for other human beings. And without that basic ability to feel for others, respect cannot take root and grow. These are lessons that children should be learning from a young age so that, when they become adults, they can have respectful relationships
both with friends and family and in the community at large. This does not mean giving up one’s own point of view. It mean developing the ability to hold more than one point of view in one’s head at the same time, and caring for the feelings of more than oneself.
Probably one of the strongest phrases I use in my interactions with students is the phrase, “It’s not okay.”
It’s not okay to push Ben.
It’s not okay to take Ann’s toy.
It’s not okay to say they can’t play.
Considering the local stories mentioned above I have much the same response.
It’s not okay to make it harder for trans kids to use the bathroom.
It’s not okay to belittle the financial hardships of others in your community.
It’s not okay to try to justify actions that hurt others.
Is it ever too late to learn empathy? Is there a developmental time window that, once missed, cannot be revisited? I hope not, because we have a lot of work to do.