Nurturing Ethical and Altruistic Behaviour in Young Children
THROUGHOUT ANY DAY young children can be observed engaging in random acts of kindness and the title for this article comes from one such observation.
Last spring several of the toddlers; I'll call one Kathy, the other Caroline, the last one Lianne, were making a bus out of chairs. There was general excitement by all as they had planned to go...”shopping for red shoes...”.
As other toddlers got on the “bus” Kathy noticed her friend Lianne did not have a seat on the bus. Kathy moved a chair closer, patted the seat and said to Lianne “you can sit here.” Off the children went on their shopping spree singing “the wheels on the bus.”
OTHER RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS OBSERVED:
Caroline saving Kathy favourite toy. It was Kathy turn to use the washroom. Looking at Kathy's face Caroline could see her dilemma. Caroline held out her hand saying “ I save your baby for you” During free play E.R and Harry (names changed) are sitting in the dress up area holding hands while sitting on the doll bed. They are watching the other children playing. Many years ago our program integrated four children with special needs. I observed a child with special needs reaching for a toy that was just out of their reach. The young child sitting across the table, also noticed what was happening, when another child pushed the toy within the struggling child's grasp.
SUCCESS for both children!
The above scenarios show the beginnings of ethical and altruistic behaviours in very young children. These children have demonstrated a “generosity” and “kindness” towards another person. As adults we could tap into these beginning awareness of others to encourage and teach ethical behaviours.
With the news media focused on bullying it would be wonderful for us, who interact with very young children to focus on the positive inter-actions that occur with their peers.
This would help children to recognize and differentiate between socially responsible behaviour and inappropriate harmful behaviour. Children as young as toddlers have a strong sense of what is “just” versus what is “unjust”. Toddlers are able to point out the transgressor in a situation. This is accomplished by physically pointing to the offender.
Young children are looking to adults for a sense of “fair play.” As adults we can reinforce, affirm and re-affirm the positive rewards for kindness towards their peers. Children enjoy being praised.
It makes more sense to encourage positive behaviours and feelings. Praise one child for an act of random kindness and others take notice. It is as they say “catching them being good.” Young children can be taught inclusiveness towards other people.
These teachable moments can be enlarged upon and nurtured on a daily basis.
Thank you, M. Roslyn Walker (Riverparkway Child Care Centre, Ottawa) for the inspiring post.