Teaching Children Civility Begins At Home
Have you ever had someone cut in front of you in line? How about letting the door slam on you when you are entering a restaurant? What about children screaming in a store because they want something they can't have? Or parents leaving their grocery cart in a parking lane rather than returning it to the cart return? These are obvious examples of incivility.
As parents, we focus a significant deal of attention with our children on school work and social activities. We spend far less time teaching, coaching, and encouraging our children to be sensitive, caring and concerned about the needs of others.
We need to teach our children to be supportive of others, regardless of one's socio-economic status, behavioral idiosyncrasies or learning deficits. Many children feel the need to elevate themselves by taunting other kids who do not meet their social standards as friends. Hurtful bullying, teasing and gossiping may become a pattern for children who lack the skills of civility.
The most important skills we can teach our children are how to respect, value, and support other children, especially those who are different from their lifestyle, cultural or religious background, social characteristics, or learning style. Our children need to learn from us to be inclusive in their social relationships, not exclusive.
Recently I realized why the notion of civility was so important to me. One day when I was a teenager, my father invited me to attend work with him. I knew that he was a metallurgical engineer, but I had very little concept about the nature of his job. During my visit to my father's manufacturing plant, one memory still lingers about the trip. My father was a champion for the underdog. Although he was an executive manager, he walked through the plant and was known by all of the die-casting workers. It didn't matter who they were or what their role was, each worker would greet my father warmly and my dad would respond by acknowledging every person by name. My father's civility left a lifelong impression which I tried to role model and teach to my own children.
Years later, I remember how pleased I was with one of my patients, when a school psychologist conveyed to me a story about this young man's involvement with a special needs student. During my patient's high schools career, he was a very popular student. The psychologist, who had completed a psycho-educational assessment on the special needs student, recalls how my client walked this student to different classes and befriended him. The special needs student played soccer with my client and they spent a great deal of time building a friendship. My patient's parents and I were proud that he had learned the lesson of civility in his relationships.
When children get off course in their road to civility, parents need to redirect them to be more kind, considerate and caring of all children. Specific civility concepts that parents can teach are:
- Teaching about multicultural tolerance and acceptance.
- Teaching children to care about others because it brings them meaning rather than expecting anything in return.
- Involving children in public service at a children's hospital.
- Teaching children to respect senior citizens by volunteering at independent living facilities.
- Teaching common courtesies, such as introducing oneself, shaking hands with others, and thanking people for doing kind gestures for them.
- Teaching children to share and play cooperatively with others.
- Teaching children to respect and assist those who are disabled or have learning limitations.
- Parents can demonstrate through word and action what civility means.
A friend of the mine has a daughter who has just completed medical school. Getting into medical school was a highly competitive process. Although she had outstanding grades and very high entrance exam scores, the deciding factor in being accepted to medical school was not related to academics. She had served in the Peace Corp., and as any college recruiter will advise students, her global service in caring for people less fortunate was the deciding factor in her college admission.
Our world lacks a sense of civility. It is the responsibility of all of us in charge of children to make sure that the world of our children's future is more civil than the world we leave behind.
James P. Krehbiel, is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.