Parents, guardians and early childhood teachers often say, “Play nice” to kids when they’re fighting or arguing. They may even separate the children to defuse the conflict. Their intentions are good, but they miss the ‘teachable moment’ to talk about virtues.
In the course of raising children, a teachable moment is one which calls for a virtue. It is an opportunity to bring out the best in a child, or to acknowledge and reinforce a virtue a child is already practicing. It is a way of tapping into child’s innate qualities of character rather than just trying to manage behavior.1
We can give our children positive guidance everyday by recognizing teachable moments and talking about virtues.
Instead of, “Play nice” we can be more specific and give our kids meaningful and lasting guidance by teaching them the what, why and how of Caring, to inspire them to show they care about their playmates by saying and doing things that help them. Gentleness is another virtue we can talk about, so they touch softly, speak quietly and think kindly. Generosity is being aware that there is plenty for everyone. When we share we make others happy, which makes us happy. We can help our kids choose Peacefulness. Instead of saying, “I hate you”, calling people names, or criticizing, they can use moderate language, even when they’re angry. They can say, “It makes me angry when you take all the building blocks and don’t share.” Peacefulness teaches us to avoid hitting and other kinds of violence.
Kids will always act-out. That’s why it’s important to maintain authority in the service of a child’s learning. Authority is used to help the child develop virtues, the gifts within, just as a good coach uses discipline to help an athlete to develop all of his or her talents and strengths2. We can start by setting the ground rules and clear boundaries of behavior when at home, or before children go on a play date, participate in an activity, or enter the classroom. And we must establish and enforce the consequence if a child doesn’t follow the ground rules. It may be giving a child a Time-Out or taking away their privileges, such as TV and computer time. When tempers have cooled, we can play the role of counselor and ask them questions that are open-ended and show non-judgmental curiosity. “What started the fight?” and “How did that make you feel?” The virtues-based approach to the role of counselor is one that is highly respectful, and honors the child’s ability to find his or her own truth in a context of virtues.
Raising ‘good’ kids is the most important job on the planet.
We all want to raise good kids. Unfortunately, the demands of today’s hectic life, along with the pervasive influence of mass media, much of it violent and mean-spirited; make it difficult to engage children and inspire them to choose virtues.
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- The Family Virtues Guide, Page 12
- The Family Virtues Guide, page 26
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Special thanks to The Family Virtues Guide, by Linda Kavelin Popov with Dr. Dan Popov Ph.D., and John Kavelin, and The Virtues Project, a global grassroots initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.