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Attitudes Towards Educating Children

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The following is from an interview with Dr Louise Porter on Australia’s Radio National. It was a ‘breath of fresh air’. Dr Porter is a child behaviour specialist and she talked about attitudes towards educating children. Breaking down old ways of thinking is not an easy job, even if you want to. The interview with Geraldine Doogue covered a lot of ground. The following is taken from her talk...

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Teaching children to do as they are told is not a good enough aim for behaviour management. What I would like for children to learn to do, is to think for themselves to be considerate. Not to think what would happen to me if I got caught doing such and such a misdeed, but, what effect would my behaviour have on other people?

To learn to be considerate, children neeed to have 4 skills...

1. An autonomous or independent understanding of right or wrong – they know right from wrong whether an adult is there telling them or not.
2. To manage their emotions (even when they’re not feeling like doing something they can manage to do it).
3. We need children to co-operate with us.
4. We need children to have a sense of potency. “I can make a difference. I can make decisions that affect me and others.”

To help children think about the effects of their behaviour on others we need to make it easier for them to think about other people and make them more willing to think about other people. The way to start is to teach by example. We build a relationship with children where we are sensitive and responsive to what they need. Rewards and punishments are neither.

Rewards and punishments have us in control – we decide which behaviour is appropriate, we decide which behaviour we will change, we are in control and being in control of another person is never experienced by the recipient to be a benign event – even with praise or rewards. We know that as adults, when other people try to control us, we don’t feel that its a very positive experience.

The gist of it is to treat them as equals and not lavish praise...

An adult in ‘guidance approach’ acts as leader whereas in ‘controlling approach’, acts as boss. Adults will explain to children that they expect them to manage their emotions, to cooperate with others, to think about the effects of their behaviour on other people and when they don’t do that, adults then step in and help them take command of themselves - they won’t boss the children around.

The first thing is to teach children to notice their behaviour and the best place to start is to notice when they’re being successful. The example of when infants begin to walk and parents recognise it as an achievement.

But by age 4 they come to their pre-school teacher with a painting and ask is this any good? At one they knew how to judge their behaviour, but by 4 they don’t know anymore. They have been told what’s good and what’s not good and they have learnt to be passive.

If we want them to notice when their behaviour is thoughtless, they need to be able to notice when it is successful. This does not entail learning a new skill, because when an adult does something that we appreciate or admire, we don’t say “good boy” for doing the dishes when it was my turn, “you can have some ice cream” – instead we say “thank you, I appreciate you doing the dishes”. For children, that’s all we have to do. We don’t say “good boy” or “good girl” to our friends because that is a power imbalance. It's not up to us to judge them.

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