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Teach Your Child About the Golden Rule

Raising kind and thoughtful children does not happen by magic! Children are quite naturally self-centered and must be taught how to behave and how to deal with others.

One of the most meaningful principles of good human interaction is the “Golden Rule”. This is not a religious principle, but there is a version of this rule in most religious systems of the world. If followed consistently through life, upsets, conflict and bad luck will be minimized and harmony and good fortune will likely be maximized.

What exactly is the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule is quite simply stated, but not so simple to follow. But if you teach your child early and are consistent with your expectations, they will grow to see the value of this simple rule.

Preschool

Children learn from the big people around them. Remember that your very young child is listening and observing you and others in their environment. If they witness kindness, patience, consideration and forgiveness they will learn this is how people behave with each other.

Not everyone your child meets is going to model the Golden Rule. Other young children and many adults can be thoughtless and hurtful to those in their immediate circle. Although you cannot protect your child from everything they hear, see and experience, you can affirm their perceptions by saying, “What they did was not nice, was it.” Just knowing that you share their hurt and confusion at mean or selfish acts will show that you are in agreement with what your child instinctively knows.

Children aged 18 months to 5 are very teachable. Take care to protect them from bullying or rude children and adults. Deal with your child’s disappointment and hurt by discussing what the offending person could have said or done. The object is not to create “self-righteousness” in your little one, but to acknowledge their natural knowing.

When your child is the one who is thoughtless or hurtful, you can address their mistake as just that. Learning involves making mistakes- and then learning from them. In order for your child to learn, you must be consistent with your correction, by 1) naming the wrong behavior and 2) giving them an alternative behavior for the next time they must make a similar choice. Many times your child will come up with a better way themselves.

Teaching your preschooler to say “I’m sorry” is extremely important. Healing words are often brief and to the point. Learning to seek forgiveness and to extend forgiveness is easier if your child sees and hears apologies and reconciliation.

Repetition and consistency are second only to modeling as effective teaching tools. Addressing poor behavior quickly and firmly but with empathy each time it occurs will help your child know right from wrong.

Main points to address:

  • Children learn from those around them, for better or worse!
  • Very young children are extremely teachable.
  • Be consistent; use repetition and empathy when correcting.
  • Name the offending behavior, then give an alternative.
  • Teach forgiveness by being forgiving. “I’m sorry” goes a long way.

Grades K-3rd

When children reach school age, they have already developed a basic stance in regard to the Golden Rule. They are however not experts and will make mistakes. They will also be exposed to many kinds of children, some of whom may not know basic manners and who may have been with unkind or thoughtless caretakers. You will need to review and reinforce the simple principle of treating others the way you would like to be treated.

It is hard sometimes to not respond in kind when someone has hurt you. Teach your child to take a deep breath before reacting. Let them know that better choices happen if you take some “think time” before acting. You can practice this technique at home. Pretending to step on each others toes or give a fake insult will make you both laugh, but will still get the point across.

If you find your child is being picked on or hurt in some way with regularity, you need to step in on their behalf. Teaching kids to forgive does not mean letting hurtful or aggressive behavior against them continue. You are their advocate!

Family situations provide lots of material for practicing the Golden Rule! Disagreements between siblings can be troublesome. Helping your children find better solutions to their disagreements will give them both a way out of the situation. One object of the Golden Rule is to create and maintain harmony, but that is accomplished by right thought, words, and action. Help them know what “right” is.

Main points to address:

  • School age children must deal with all kinds of people.
  • Teach your child to use the Golden Rule, but also how to assert and defend themselves.
  • Advocate for them if necessary.
  • Practice the Golden Rule at home; use it as a standard for behavior.

Grades 4-6th

Older children will face more complicated choices and harder moral dilemmas. You will need to help them sort things out so that the real issues emerge. Listen to them with empathy and understanding. They will probably stumble upon a solution, or at least a clearer way to approach a problem if they can talk it out with you.

Let your child know that you believe in their ability to make good choices in hard situations. Convey the truth of the matter that we are all learning and that no one has gotten it totally right yet. Use humor sparingly or your child may think you are not taking their situation seriously. After talking things out, follow up later on their progress. You may often find that the problem that was so big yesterday has faded into the background today!

If your child seems to have a hard time holding their ground with others, you may want to try some esteem building activities. Some ideas: try using positive affirmations, learning martial arts or self-defense, or helping them focus on and develop one of their talents. The Golden Rule balances between meekness and boldness. Both are appropriate at given times.

When your child has been the offending party, considerate it a teachable moment! Correction with kindness, but firmness, should happen quickly, but in private. Explore alternative thoughts, words, and actions your child could use next time. The key will always be some form of this question: How would you like it if someone did (said, thought) that to you? By making it personal, you have appealed to your child’s innate ability to empathize. Keep in mind, the point is never to humiliate or shame, but to tap into his or her ability to see things from another’s perspective.

Your child will have many experiences in life that will test their adherence to the Golden Rule, but if you live it at home, model it, and expect your child to follow it, the Golden Rule will become part of your child’s emotional, moral and spiritual fiber.

Main points to address:

  • Older children face more difficult challenges.
  • If your child seems to always be on the receiving end of hurt try building self-esteem.
  • When your child has been the offending party, correct with firmness, but kindness. Explore the alternatives together.
  • Appeal to your child’s natural ability to empathize with others.

Resources
Resources that can help in your venture include:

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