The Children Are Always Listening

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           I was recently at a school where there were some challenging social dynamics amongst a group of second graders. I know this must be familiar to parents of school-age parents: the rise of social media and early exposure to our culture through the Internet has created a complex social hierarchy amongst our youngest students. Clothes, possessions, vacations, cell phones, who's playing what games, and gossip are the social currency - a mirror of our adult world, no? Even the political debates of our times - immigration, taxes, climate change, gun control - are woven into our children's conversations.

           I am not advocating overly protective parenting: kids will get numerous messages no matter what we do. I am advocating that we as parents model the traits that will lead to greater understanding: listening, tolerance where possible, agreeing to disagree, and the willingness to find common ground with everyone we meet:

·        Listening: Do we allow ourselves to hear one another? Do we truly listen without simply formulating our next response? Do we provide eye contact, body language that is open and accepting, and a willingness to be present with another person? This is essential with our children and also essential with one another.

·        Tolerance: Many of us have been engaged in political arguments that only refute others' points of view. We have seen religious intolerance, racial intolerance, ethnic intolerance, gender intolerance, and social class intolerance played across all media. Can we model tolerance of others' experiences - when their points of view do not threaten or limit our free expression of our experiences?

·        Agreeing to disagree: Can we have a loving truce with our friends and families? Can we show our children that "being right" is not the only important facet of a relationship?

·        Finding common ground: Can we find the places where we agree and work from there? A love of Italian food, a shared passion for the Mets, or a soft spot for country music may be all we come up with, but it's a start.

          Back to those second graders: one student shares that there is a playdate coming up and only Suzie and Jake are invited - with three other classmates standing right there. Meanwhile, outside of school at pick-up time, two parents go on and on about the trip they are about to take next weekend, with other parents within easy earshot and unwitting participants in this conversation. The same thing, no?

          Children are always listening - not just when we are telling them what to do but also when we are driving, talking on the phone with our own parents about our siblings, and chatting with our friends. (How many times have we said "be nice to your brother!" while we bad mouth our siblings in front of the kids?) Can we choose to be loving, capable, compassionate, and tolerant individuals when the kids are around? Or even when they aren't around - just for the good of everyone?



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This page contains a single entry by John published on February 12, 2019 11:22 AM.

The Nurture Assumption: How much do parents matter anyway? was the previous entry in this blog.

Let's Celebrate June with Our Families: Fatherhood, Commencement, and Summer is the next entry in this blog.

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