What do tantrums have to do with helping children develop into advocates for social justice?
As parents and teachers, we want our kids to grow up strong and self-assured, but not entitled. We hope they feel powerful, with a sense of agency enabling them to solve problems and make change, yet not self-absorbed.
We don’t want them to feel so powerful that instead of helpful team members in the family and the classroom, they veer out of control, disrupt others, and make life uncomfortable for those around them.
The foundation of justice is empathy. Only when we can feel and understand the suffering of others will we work to change their circumstances.
Helping young children move into empathy requires a long-term commitment. It won’t happen with one conversation or activity, but with many, many, many repetitions. We can start right now with the way we handle our children’s upsets and disputes with peers.
I’m trying to tread lightly on the earth.
It’s not easy. We live in a throw-away culture that craves excess. Why have one (fill in the blank) when we can have five, or ten? Advertisements for the latest and greatest bauble bombard us moment by moment. When we tire of those baubles or they break, we dump them in landfills.
Intentionally choosing to live with less does not mean deprivation. Instead, it means fostering clarity and focus, deciding to buy only what we really need - or really love - and valuing quality over quantity.
At my preschool, we often take children down the street to a local university where the campus provides large expanses of green space where they can run and play. We have to cross a busy street to get there.
A few years ago, one of the children asked why the cars didn’t stop for us to cross. We started talking about busy streets and safety and the rules for when drivers have to stop for pedestrians. This led to a discussion about crosswalks, and my preschoolers wanted to know why there was no crosswalk where we crossed. We noticed that many other people crossed at the same place.
Sometimes you have to pull back the lens and take a wider view.
We can do many quick, easy activities that help our children develop an orientation towards social justice and enable them to see themselves as change agents. By putting some longer-term practices into place as well, like having regular family dinners, we can make an even bigger impact.