How can we ensure children stay safe while giving them sufficient space to grow?
As educators and parents, it is our responsibility to try to keep children out of harm’s way.
Incessantly constructing boundaries by telling them what to do, what not to do, when and how to do it and even providing them with seemingly harmless reminders, such as “Be careful!” is actually hindering their development more than it is protecting them.
Commands are often heard and internalized as “I can’t…” beliefs that limit children and their experiences well into adulthood. As young adults, they will choose to rebel or mistake these condescending or cautionary voices as their own. Our voices become their inner-critics.
Best case scenario, we have a roomful of teenagers looking back at us with blank stares, waiting to be told what to do or not caring what we tell them to do…
But it is critical for children (and for all of us at any age) to feel safe. That’s why letting them run wild and free, even if it is an available option, isn’t necessarily the answer.
Children do need to learn to respect boundaries, but it is their own boundaries they need to learn to respect. This self-awareness is what will allow them to develop autonomy and enable them to have healthy relationships. Self-respect is how they will learn to keep themselves safe when an adult is not with them. Besides, if a child doesn’t respect himself, we can’t expect him to respect others.
By constantly enforcing boundaries and repeating rigid instructions, we may think we are being a good teacher or parent when it is actually denying the learners the opportunity to develop self-awareness and self-respect, which is a destructive path to lead them down.
If our parents and teachers had learned self-respect from their teachers and parents when they were young, do you think they would have demanded respect from children? Now we have a generation of adults who don’t want to demand it and aren’t respected by their students and children. There must be another option.
What are ways that we can teach children to acknowledge and respect their own boundaries?
Of course modeling self-respect is a good idea (which may require reflecting on times when your boundaries were first violated).
Filiz Sasaoğlu’s article, Developing Self-Respect in Children, outlines ways to teach children self-respect, which “improves their skills to learn, love and be creative.”
I remember I used to try to teach students to be respectful by introducing an acrostic poem on the first day along side the classroom rules. The poem acknowledged having Respect for the Earth, School rules, Peers, the learning Environment, Classroom policies and Time. I DO NOT recommend this activity because it was missing respect for the learning process and the individual learner.
In hindsight, I would simply ask children how they know when they are being respected and take notes. Maybe the group could construct a collective poem.
There have got to be other ways to teach respect (other than reciting the Golden Rule). What about treating ourselves the way we want to treat others and others to treat us? Do you have any ideas? Please share!