In Minnesota and around the world, we are increasingly worried about the reach and devastation of terrorism. The homicidal acts of a few are waged without regard for the impact on the targeted person, families and communities. Clearly, the terrorists in Paris, Egypt or Kenya have no empathy or consideration of the impact of their actions on others.
In response to the Paris terroristic homicides, the Dalai Lama is calling for a systematic approach to foster humanistic values. “If a human being is killed by an animal, it’s sad, but if a human being is killed by another human being it’s unthinkable. We have to make a special effort to think of each other as fellow human beings, as our brothers and sisters.”
What can we do as early childhood teachers, parents, and practitioners to foster humanistic values?
1. Practice Self Awareness: Becoming aware of not only intention, but also the impact of interactions on others, builds perspective and sensitivity to human beings. For example, if your spouse is hurt by a comment you intended as a compliment, rather than defending the comment, be curious about how it landed on your spouse. Try to understand the impact as felt by your spouse.
2. Embrace the Critical Nature of Your Role with Children: When adults embrace the critical nature of their jobs in early childhood settings, they set the stage for the child’s future expectations and success in school and relationships. Feeling cared for and nurtured creates the opportunity to care for others and cultivates empathy.
3. Prioritize Secure Attachment: Sensitive, responsive and consistent adult-child relationships builds the child’s sense of self that includes self-worth, empathy and empowerment. The attachment relationship with a parent provides a model for future relationships and expectations. Baby learns that when he is in need, another person responds with kindness and sensitivity. Research shows that by preschool, children with secure attachment are most likely to show empathy for a hurt playmate by expressing concern and getting a teacher to help.
4. Model Compassion: Help children interpret and rehearse their understanding of others’ experiences. Preschool and older children can act on their feelings of empathy and understanding of others’ perspectives. Saying sorry must include the “what” of what the child did to cause the other person’s pain, for example: “Sorry, Jack, for hitting you and making you cry.”
5. Hold High Expectations for Perspective Taking: When children are held to an expectation to see from the perspective of others, they begin to believe in their capacities to benefit their families, siblings and community. There is an amplification of their connectedness to others.
The Dalai Lama warns, “If we give in to our destructive emotions we only think of ourselves.”
The best way to ensure that our children are prepared to consider the perspective of others – to care about their impact on the world – is to support the emotional readiness of very young children and to build networks of support for families.