Now that we are finally having some wonderful warm sunny days, and the kids can play outside, all is “right with the world”. Well, at least the kids are enjoying their outdoor recess far more than those recess spent huddled inside, away from the bitter cold weather…aren’t they?! Surprisingly, the answer to that is “No” for many of our children.

To help us deal with some of the exclusion, name-calling and unfriendly behavior in the class room and most notably, on the playground, we brought in “Kids Empowered”, a husband and wife team that spoke to our fourth through sixth grade students about the “Do’s and Don’ts of being a friendly or unfriendly classmate”. All parents should have received a handout from the presentation, which includes some great ideas to help your students learn how to stand up to meanness and help themselves and their fellow classmates learn some effective strategies to cope with unfriendly behavior.

In the meantime I can’t help by wonder, “Hey, we are a Catholic School! Why in the world are we having problems with mean behavior? Haven’t we all taught our kids to live according to Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”? Are some children simply good-natured — or not?

Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for parental influence, and the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.

Many parents believe it’s important to compliment (or reprimand) the behavior, not the child — that way, the child learns to repeat (or cease) the behavior. Indeed, I know one couple who are careful to say, “That was such a helpful thing to do,” instead of, “You’re a helpful person.”

But is that the right approach? In a clever experiment, the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler set out to investigate what happens when we commend generous behavior versus generous character. They discovered that praising the children’s character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: “I am a helpful person.” This dovetails with new research led by the psychologist Christopher J. Bryan, who finds that for moral behaviors, nouns work better than verbs. To get 3- to 6-year-olds to help with a task, rather than inviting them “to help,” it was 22 to 29 percent more effective to encourage them to “be a helper.” Cheating was cut in half when instead of, “Please don’t cheat,” participants were told, “Please don’t be a cheater.” When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us.


However, when children behave badly, they tend to feel either shame (feeling that they are a bad person) or guilt (that they did a bad thing). Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.

The most effective response to bad behavior is to express disappointment. According to independent reviews by Professor Eisenberg and David R. Shaffer, parents raise caring children by expressing disappointment and explaining why the behavior was wrong, how it affected others, and how they can rectify the situation. The best way to relay negative feedback to a child is to say something like: “You’re a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.”

Nonetheless, as we all know, “Actions speak louder than words.” Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do. Modeling appropriate behavior is the most important thing you can do for your children. If you act in a way that you want your kids to act, they’ll learn just from watching you. Modeling behaviors of respect for children means behaving in the way you expect your children to behave. When they hear you use polite language such as saying “please” or lend a helping hand to the “new” family at school, you are showing your children how you would like them to act. As a parent, your actions speak louder than your words.

Follow the anonymous quote: “Your children will become who you are; so be who you want them to be.”

Have a fabulous summer, and remember that according to James Dent, “A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken!”

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