Friday, June 3, 2011

Does your child have a social conscience?

This week I have been shocked, saddened, appalled and angry, and if something can get to me so greatly then it is worth writing about.
The 4 Corners story A Bloody Business, broadcast last Monday night, exposed the horrors inflicted on Australian cattle exported to the slaughterhouses of Indonesia.
The impact this had on Australian viewers was incredible, and within 24 hours, Senator Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, had suspended trade to at least 11 abattoirs in Indonesia that were highlighted in the program.
The online petition by Get Up! drew huge numbers of people signing up to send a strong message to the government to stop this abhorrent practice.
We can sign petitions, lobby our members of parliament or become vegetarians, but real action begins at home in what we teach our children through what we say and what we do.
The footage shown on television and on the internet of the cattle being tortured is far too disturbing to show children (I had to look away at times, and ended up in tears).
But we can - and should - still talk about these issues with our kids.
Besides, children are likely to overhear you speaking about the issue with your friends or partner, or they may catch glimpses of it on the television or hear it on the radio.
Their curious minds will be full of questions, and the first place they look for answers will be you.

Having a social conscience is something we should instil in them, even if we are often complacent in the way we live our lives.
We may talk about caring for our environment, but then we buy a 4WD.
We may talk about giving to charity, but when a doorknocker comes along we decline to donate.
We may talk about caring for animals, but we still buy eggs laid by caged hens.
There are multiple examples of hypocrisy where actions speak louder than words, and I’m guilty just as much as the next person.
When you have children, you realise that you can no longer be self-absorbed because another little human being is completely dependent upon you.
With this in mind, it is a huge responsibility to shape a child for the future, and just as much a responsibility to ensure their future is a bright one.
So how do we develop our child’s social conscience?
Firstly, it’s important to understand what a social conscience is.
It is the understanding of, and belief in, a greater good, the sense that there is an intimate bond among individuals, even those unknown to one another that benefits all of us collectively.
In other words, it is thinking of others and standing up for our beliefs.
If your child has a healthy social conscience, they will tend to understand others better, care about them and want to help them.
A child without a social conscience only thinks of themselves – they tend to use the words “I want”, “mine” or “give it to me” and they find it hard to understand how other people think or feel.
They don’t care about helping or sharing, but instead may want to be popular, tough or powerful.
Parents need to teach their children that other children have feelings and are important too, that helping others is better than being selfish, and that kindness is the way to winning friends.
There are a number of ways to do this, and in many ways they will learn by you role modelling appropriate behaviours.
I found an excellent article by counsellor, teacher, author and parent Jean Tracy which present three practical ways to boost your child’s conscience.

1. Ask appropriate questions from everyday life: Listen to the stories your child brings home about other children and then ask questions such as “how do you think the child felt?”, “how would you feel if that happened to you?” and “what advice would you give to kids who hurt others?”
The child’s answers to these questions will increase their ability to be thoughtful of others.

2. Teach thought-stopping: Help your child rid himself of mean, critical or revengeful thoughts. This frees them from negative thinking, bullying tendencies and angry feelings. Thought stopping is a technique that switches heavy negative thoughts to more powerful and positive thoughts. It promotes balance, caring and a thoughtful conscience too.

3. Role-play socials skills: By teaching kids to see events through the eyes of others, your child more easily learns important socials skills such as the following:
* Asking questions to get others to talk about their interests (demonstrating that everyone loves to talk about themselves and this is a good way to make friends)
* Listening with interest to what other kids say (demonstrating that listening well inhibits interrupting and promotes self-discipline, and other people will like you for being interested and for making them feel important)
* Praising others for the good they do (demonstrating that everyone grows with encouragement, and by finding the good in others and focusing on them, you can develop a caring social conscience).
All parents have the power to develop a social conscience in their children, and this will lead them to have meaningful lives.

While they may not fully understand why some people are cruel to animals, we can help them understand that caring about others (including animals) is one way to make the world a better place, and that standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves is an honourable thing to do.


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