Mother Nature has a haphazard way of showcasing her spring beauty. She responds to the planting of bulbs and annuals, but she also watches some seeds fall indiscriminately from trees or flowers to then be carried randomly on the wings of a bird or a bee or on the fur of a wandering animal.
Or they could be washed into the soil by rain and nourished into growth wherever the end of that puddle may be.
The moral development of our children however, needs a more purposeful plan.
We can’t control the amount of rain or sun, and we may not even know the ultimate color or shape of these bulbs, but we can make conscious choices about how to nourish the qualities that will ultimately give children the desire and skills to contribute to the beauty of life.
Teaching children how to be a good friend goes along with teaching them how to read or how to do math. It’s important to be as intentional about guiding the emergence of moral thinking and respect as we are about teaching manners and academics. Along with the other adults in the lives of our children, we should speak as one voice, echoing each other, when we nurture respectful conduct, acknowledging others, simple kindness and valuing the innate personal differences that give our lives such color and beauty.
For young children, there is a natural struggle between an age-appropriate egocentrism and honoring and respecting others. The natural self-centeredness that feeds a baby’s growth and development gives way very slowly to an awakening of an appreciation for the needs and feelings of those we love.
As children move from a literal, narrow-minded perspective to one that is broader, consideration for others begins to develop a place in their hearts. To guide the emergence of this ethical thinking, we can discuss intention and motive, praise emerging thoughtfulness, model respect and point out examples, in life and in books, of people who are kind, respectful, fair and caring. The emergence of moral thinking in children needs conscious watering and fertilizing or the temptations of “me first” will take over like weeds.
There are universal codes, but no black-and-white textbook procedures, for developing moral character. But we don’t have the leeway to be as haphazard in our attempts as Mother Nature is with hers.
As you strive to guide your children, purposefully stress the importance of respecting others and doing for others. And as the spring weather finally starts to warm us, so will the emerging kindness and respect of our children.