Teaching Children Consideration

By Maria Fontaine

One thing that kids do all the time is argue amongst themselves. Often it is more a matter of contradicting what the other has said, almost for the sake of contradiction. Other times they do it to show that they're superior, to show that the other is wrong and to make themselves look better. Children do that all the time, almost constantly.

They need to be shown that trying to put themselves up by putting down others is wrong. Maybe they are right sometimes, maybe their point of view is right—usually they think they are right, if they're arguing—but whether they're right or wrong, they need to learn it's wrong to argue.

Children need to learn to put themselves in other people's shoes. Ask them, "How would you feel if you were to give the wrong answer to a question or make a statement that wasn't right and someone told you, 'That's wrong! How could you be so stupid?' Well, that's how your brother or sister or friends feel when you contradict them or point out their mistakes."

Love, instead of tearing people down, lifts them up and makes them feel good, not embarrassed or humiliated.

Give your children an example to drive that point home, how it makes people feel, because they need to realize that. Most children, once they understand what effect their words have on others, will try to be more careful about what they say and how they say it.

Explain, "If you do this to your friends—try to put yourself up by putting them down—it makes them feel like crawling under the rug. That's the quickest way to lose friends," or, "Think how terrible that makes your sister feel. She's going to feel like never saying anything. And worse than that, it tells her that you don't love her enough to care about her feelings."

We adults need to make sure that we're not guilty of the same offense. We also need to help our children see that not doing this is a part of love—that this is one way in which they can and should show love to their peers and younger children.

Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt and building them up instead of tearing them down is one way of showing love. There are a lot of loving deeds that children are unable to do for others because they're so young, like cooking a meal by themselves or nursing a sick loved one. But one way they can show love and consideration is by lifting others up instead of putting them down.

There are some situations, of course, when older brothers and sisters feel that they have to correct the younger ones. If a little one says cows are blue, the older child feels obligated to correct him or her, but they can learn to do it gently and lovingly. They can learn the distinction between when they need to do it and when they don't need to do it, when it's necessary to teach them something and when to just let it pass.

The older ones can learn that distinction. Maybe it's not necessary to correct a three-year-old's misconception of the color of cows. She'll learn soon enough by seeing them in pictures or in real life.

Or when one child does need to correct—in other words, contradict—another child, they can learn to do so in a nice way. "I think you're mistaken. Cows are usually black or brown or white, not blue," or, "I thought that, too, when I was your age, but I learned that cows are black or brown or white, not blue," or, "Let's go look for a picture of cows in one of your books and see what colors they usually are."

Like the rest of us, children have a much easier time accepting correction if it's done nicely, but most children contradict each other in a vindictive, scornful, or sarcastic way, sad to say.

Love, instead of tearing people down, lifts them up and makes them feel good, not embarrassed or humiliated. That's what contradicting and arguing does—embarrasses or humiliates. Sometimes the children don't realize this. They realize what it does when they're on the receiving end, but it just doesn't seem to sink in that it makes other people feel just as bad when it happens to them.

If adults have the tendency to immediately contradict or correct one another and to argue—and this is something we've all been guilty of—we can't blame the children when they do it. But we can be more careful to set a good example, and we can teach our children to be more loving and considerate in this way too. It's the difference between having arguing, fighting, bickering, contradicting children and children that really love one another and cooperate and work together in harmony. It makes all the difference in the world!

There are a lot of other aspects of showing love and consideration, of course. It's a big subject! It's also one of the most important things we can teach our children, because children who fail to learn to be loving and considerate in their speech and actions grow up and continue to have the same habit of bickering and contradicting people. If we want our children to be successful in life, what could be more important than teaching them to love?