When a very young child intentionally hurts another, how do we respond? With outrage and anger? Threats and intimidation? None of the above. Young children are ignorant, as in, they don’t know any better. Instead of shouting, a caring adult needs to step in and say to the child, “When you do that, you hurt others. When you hurt others you hurt yourself. The next time you feel so upset that you feel like doing harm, come to me. Let’s talk and work together. I can help you learn to handle those big feelings in safer ways, so that you can be a helper, not a hurter.”
When adults treat children in this respectful, compassionate way, children learn to be compassionate. But when adults respond to a child’s ignorance with anger…. how can they possibly learn about compassion?
When older children and adults behave cruelly it’s harder to view their actions through the “ignorance” lens, but it still applies. When we intentionally harm others, we are, in that moment, blindly ignorant of the hurt we cause. If, in that moment of harming, we had known better we would have done better. That’s why, whenever we get our buttons pushed and are about to lose it we need to calm down and wake up just enough to recognize the damage we are contemplating. And in that moment of pause, we realize that we do, indeed, know better.
All teachers are not parents, but all parents are teachers. Teaching kids to be good people includes teaching them how to manage their destructive emotions in constructive ways. When we witness cruelty between kids we need to summon compassion. Through our compassion for their ignorance we can help children become wiser.