Reactions are part of everyday living. Some reactions are automatic, like stopping at a red light. Likewise, some reactions are based on instinct. Think of when a child falls and the mother rushes to the child, scoops her up and kisses away the boo-boo. People react in all different ways to a variety of situations on a daily basis. At times people overreact or do not react at all. It is the rare person who can artfully react in an appropriate manner most of the time. Why is that? Perhaps, unlike subjects we are taught in school, reacting appropriately and behaving properly is not something that is formally taught. After all, there is no one acceptable guideline to follow when teaching a person how to react in accordance with the situation they are in.
Overreactions are very common today. Think of the teen girl whose mother just told her that her 11pm curfew would not be extended. The teenager runs to her room crying out that her mother must hate her and is ruining her life. What’s frightening is that overreacting has become not only accepted behavior, but also expected behavior! What if we could change that mindset? What if we could teach our children how to react to situations while maintaining dignity and respect for all involved? This world would be a kinder, gentler place for sure.
Is respect reserved only for our elders like the adage “respect thy elders” states, or is it something that should be shown to all? Everyone deserves to be respected no matter their age, gender, race, religion or color. Everyone has feelings and is facing some sort of challenge in their personal life. Therefore, children are taught from a young age to respect everyone, respect will come back to them.
Think about how you would react to the following situation. A young child is in a restroom washing her hands as the mother waits for her. As the child is washing up, a middle-aged lady nudges the girl out of the way so that she may use the sink. The girl then moves over to the hand drier and begins drying her hands. Before her hands are dry, the same middle-aged lady begins drying her hands on top of the little girl’s hands. The child slinks away toward her mother and says nothing with her head down. The mother has witnessed it all. Is this a teachable moment, and if so, for whom? Could this be a teachable moment for the little girl, the mother, and the middle-aged lady? The answer is yes. If the mother had said nothing and done nothing, then the lady would learn that her behavior is acceptable and would likely act the same way again. The little girl would learn that she should not stand up for herself and also that she is not deserving of respect. The mother would have failed to teach her daughter that she is indeed entitled to respect.
If however, the mother started yelling at the lady (or worse yet, the child), then the child would learn either that her mother will need to solve her problems or that she herself should yell at people when they offend her. The lady would have reacted in a defensive manner and possibly yelled back escalating the situation. After reflection, the mother would have learned that she taught her daughter the way NOT to behave. Finally, if the mother could took her daughter by the hand and lead her back to the drier explaining to the lady that her daughter had not yet finished drying her hands, everyone would have learned a valuable lesson. The lady would learn that her behavior was rude and she was not showing any respect for the child. Perhaps she would behave differently in the future under similar circumstances. The child would learn that it is okay to stand up for herself and that she deserves respect. The mother would see that her child was learning from this experience by seeing her reaction to similar situations in the future.
Children are always learning from how adults behave. Teachable moments are all around us if only we open our eyes enough to see them. How would you have reacted if this were you and your child? Would you want your child to react the same way? Be careful how you act because you are always teaching and your child is always learning.