When Children Act Selfish (page 2)
Parents and teachers tend to get very cross at young children who don’t share; however, intellectual maturation plays a big role in learning to share. It is normal for young children to see things only from their own viewpoint. This aspect of their intellectual development affects their interactions with others. They are not necessarily being inconsiderate when they overlook a playmate’s feelings; a very young child is often not even aware that someone else has feelings (DeVries & Zan, 2006). It’s not surprising, then, that young children have many conflicts and that their teachers spend a great deal of time dealing with those conflicts. Teachers who understand child development don’t get upset at these normal misunderstandings. Instead, they use the situation as a teachable moment, as Dennis does in this next example:
Luis is playing by himself in the sandbox, carefully filling a dump truck with sand and emptying it, creating a hill. Celeste is playing next to him with a toy bulldozer. She suddenly drives her bulldozer over Luis’s hill to flatten it out for a road. Luis immediately starts to cry and to hit Celeste.
Dennis arrives on the scene and comforts both children. He has observed enough from across the room to say to Luis, “I don’t think Celeste knows why you are upset; can you use your words and tell her?” But Luis is too upset to talk yet, and so Dennis gives him more time by rephrasing the question. By then, Luis is able to say that he didn’t want Celeste to touch his hill.
Dennis realizes that neither child had considered the intentions of the other. Luis thought Celeste was being mean, and Celeste was shocked that he was mad at her. Having encouraged Luis to express his view, he then asks Celeste to explain what she was doing. It turns out that she was trying to be helpful in building a road, not understanding what Luis was doing. With help from Dennis, Luis is able to say, “I don’t want a road, I’m making a hill.” With this information, Celeste is happy to work on her road in another part of the sandbox and all is peaceful, for the moment.
Conflict is an opportunity for an alert teacher to help youngsters tune in to the feelings and viewpoints of their playmates. Knowledgeable teachers do not blame the children or make anyone feel guilty for being thoughtless of others; they understand that this behavior is normal for young children.
Mrs. Jensen also works at helping her young students grow beyond their egocentricity by encouraging them to tell one another how they feel. Often she needs to help children find the words to express themselves; they learn from her example as she walks them through the process of communicating their feelings in a constructive way. This is part of effective guidance, which teaches lifelong interpersonal skills. As children’s intellectual ability to understand the views of others develops, their social development is enhanced as well.
The goal is voluntary unselfishness, but many adults force children to share instead. Few adults would be as generous with their prized possessions as parents and teachers often insist youngsters must be. Would you turn your new car over to someone you barely know because “she doesn’t have one”? Why should Rosa let Samantha ride her new bike? Rosa’s right of ownership and right to decide whether or not to share must first be respected in order to prepare her to voluntarily share. Children often think that sharing means giving something away permanently (Landy, 2002); their generosity may be increased by reassurance of getting the object back again.
Only when sharing is a real choice and not coerced can a child make the choice to be generous. Even with classroom materials not owned by any individual, the rights of possession must be respected. Youngsters should also be encouraged to stand up to aggressors who attempt to take things by force (Slaby, Roedell, Arezzo, & Hendrix, 1995). Of course, we need to teach them how to do this assertively rather than aggressively.
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