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“Treat others the way you wish to be treated”. Such a simple cliche but if a child has not developed the capacity to put themselves in another’s shoes, consideration is not possible. When is a child old-enough to be considerate and how can they be taught this virtue?
Normal Developmental Theory teaches us that before a child is able to consider another, they must be able to both consider themselves separate and comfortable enough inside their own minds with their own feelings. They do this by accepting the concept and experience of feelings without judgment. The process of regulating one’s feelings is called “self-soothing” and this is not an automatic process, it involves a certain type of experience with one’s caregiver who practices a certain type of parenting. Picture the pre-school child who sub-vocally states to herself after falling on the playground, “it’s gonna be okay”. Clearly, the child is repeating a parental memory experience inside of themselves causing their entire being to calm down and get back up and on that horse. This function is the result of an intact “ego”, or “self worked! ” and commonly develops by the age of 5 to 6 if their environment is healthy.
Before a child can be considerate to another, they need to be considerate to themselves. This is taught to them by their parents in the early years working to lessen their stress by soothing and comforting. This process then becomes a part of the child and available to apply to themselves and others. The child who only gives to others and not themselves is at just as much risk and the child who can only give to themselves. Balance is healthy.
Consideration is a virtue that can also be taught and practiced at home. Actively asking kids to try to understand what their brother, sister, or friend might be thinking and feeling is how parents can practice consideration. But, consideration should not be a function or taught as a response to guilt. Statements like “you should feel bad for not thinking about your sister” will create guilt not compassion. Consideration is about lessening strife through caring and love not shame for doing something wrong. One involves feeling bad while the other involves feeling love. And, love is taught not inherited.
How does one practice Consideration in a fun manner? I like to make up games. Here is mine on practicing Consideration in a quick 10 minute family game.
Consideration Family Game:
Take a stack of 3×5 index cards and write out some common situations where Consideration could be practiced. Try to make your vignettes applicable to your particular family. For example, if you have common issues of sibling rivalry, one such card could be “how could someone show consideration for Billy having twice as much homework than his sister Kelly?” Each family member then writes out their own answer and shares them with the entire family. As long as the answer was Considerate, everyone claps and states “good job”. Such a game should only take about 10 minutes and involve only 4 to 5 questions. Like any other virtue, practice and modeling is what makes the trait sink in.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.