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Monday, January 7, 2013

Teaching gentleness

Four year old Chuck was quietly playing with Legos when his one year old sister, Ellie, toddled up and grabbed some Legos.  Chuck just shoved her away, causing her to lose her balance and fall on her face and start crying.  Let's look at what happened.

First, Chuck was playing nicely by himself.
Second, Ellie isn't old enough to understand that she was interfering with Chuck's play.
Third,  Chuck's response to Ellie was not intentional.

When dealing with young siblings, you have to consider both the older one's immaturity and the younger one's safety.  Chuck understandably didn't want anyone messing with his Lego creation.  Ellie understandably was interested in the bright colorful bricks.  Because Ellie is so young, her safety comes first.  While it's impossible to hover over a one year old constantly (and you wouldn't want to do it anyway), you have to ensure that she is in a safe place.  Sometimes that means that you put her in her crib if you can't give her your total attention.  Sometimes, that means you have to set your older child up in a different room to play uninterrupted.

At the same time a four year old is not too young to be taught to be gentle with smaller children.  Encourage caring and gentleness by your own example.  Look for times when he IS gentle and praise his efforts.  Have him practice with a baby doll or stuffed animal.  Be mindful of the types of movies, books and video games he is exposed to and cut back on those that are primarily violent.  Let him know firmly that pushing, shoving, or any other destructive action towards another person (regardless of age) is unacceptable. 

Chuck is usually gentle with Ellie but he does need to understand that he could hurt her if he's not careful.  And Ellie will soon be old enough to teach that she needs to be nice to Chuck too.  Lay the foundation now to have a more peaceful family later.


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