Years ago a new child attended one of our after-school programs. The mother took me aside and with heartfelt gratitude said, “In the years my son has been in school, he has never been spoken to with such respect, kindness and understanding.” I was pleased at the recognition but cried inside wondering why this young child’s previous teachers had not given him the respect that should be the foundation of all communication and interaction with every single human being.
At Sunflower we act upon the belief that all people deserve respect, to be treated as individuals with dignity and value in and of themselves. We choose to see each child always in the best light; as inherently good and worthy rather than imperfect and in need of becoming worthy.
Haim Ginott, in his classic ground-breaking book Between Parent and Child offered parents humane methods to help children grow up with security, a strong sense of self-respect and an attitude of respect toward others. The goal is always to use language that connects us to the child–language that is protective of feelings, not critical of behavior. At Sunflower, our choice of words when responding to children’s emotions reflects his teachings, as do our methods of modeling empathy.
Modeling is also how we teach children about respect at Sunflower. Children learn best to speak and treat others with respect by the way we treat them. Respectful communication must be mutual.
Here is an unforgettable example of showing respect (as well as avoiding judgement and humiliation) from Between Parent and Child:
What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say, “What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Why can’t you be like your younger sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You’re forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I’m not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders!” That’s not what we say to a guest. We say, “Here’s your umbrella, Alice,” without adding, “scatterbrain.”
This example makes me laugh every time I share it. Honestly, it really is that easy. We already have great tools for respectful communication with our children, spouse or boss: just use the same attitude, tone and understanding that you use everyday with a dear friend or a guest!
Post by Susan Caruso, with Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks, © Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Photos © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts 2011