Nurturing heart qualities in children is crucial for their social and emotional well-being. It is often considered, however, as one of the biggest challenges for teachers and educators. How to teach children to be compassionate, loving and kind towards others? Can these qualities be taught at all? How can Early Years Educators and School Teachers contribute to bringing up considerate and sensitive children?
In order to find the answers and the right approach it is necessary to have a sound understanding of what it means to be kind and compassionate as well as why we as teachers and educators want children to develop such qualities. Our own understanding will determine what we expect from the children we teach and look after, and will lead us towards certain more or less effective pedagogical tools and approaches.
It is always good to begin by asking ourselves a few essential questions that will help us determine our own motivations and identify any misinterpretations that may potentially affect the whole journey we are about to begin. To find the answer we need to be absolutely honest with ourselves and reflect on our role as teachers and educators:
Do I want my students/children I care for to be kind and nice to meet expectations of the society and the parents?
Do I want them to be kind because I think children should treat adults with respect because they are older and bigger?
Do I want my students to be kind and understanding so that others think I am a good teacher?
Do I want my students to develop loving and caring attitude towards others for their own and others’ wellbeing and happiness?
If we are serious about supporting children’s growth and development, then we will most likely answer “yes” to the second question. Nurturing the loving and caring attitude in children eventually results in being naturally considerate to other people’s needs. In a long run it is not only the children who benefit the most but other people too. This is especially important nowadays when the multicultural exchange makes us all go beyond our local comfort zone and welcomes us to see and think globally. Many of us already teach in multicultural settings and realize how important consideration for others is in order to create a non-bullying and discrimination-free environment. The ability to be considerate, understanding and sensitive towards other people’s needs regardless of their age and stage of development will have an enormous influence on your students’ quality of life. The more caring and understanding they become, the easier it will be for them to adapt to new situations and to build positive and meaningful relationships with people and the environment. So, understanding why you want your students to be loving and caring and how this may benefit them and others will help you a lot in your teaching career. Children will naturally become loving and understanding by being offered enabling environments that nurture kindness and compassion, and this is definitely something that teachers and educators can contribute towards.
What teachers and educators can do to ensure their teaching style offers enabling environments for the growth of kindness, compassion and love.
It all begins with self-love. Accepting and loving ourselves as individuals lead to being more loving and caring towards others. To initiate this process we have to support our students in accepting and loving themselves just as they are. This is best done when we treat our students as our equal partners. This begins with building solid grounds during the Foundation Years as this period has the strongest influence on child’s future behaviour. Not all of us, however, teach Early Years students. There will always be a good moment to begin regardless of your students’ age, and it will still be possible to achieve great results.
How to instil self-love in children.
The Positive Pedagogy and Enabling Environments approaches are one of the best tools that teachers can use to effectively support their students to love and accept themselves. The most important principle to remember is that although it is the child who we are working with, in reality we will be working with ourselves. We need to be caring and understanding ourselves in order to help our students become more compassionate and kind. In Positive Pedagogy educators work on their own behaviour and attitudes first because only then will it be possible for them to inspire their students. This understanding is fundamental as in reality we will not be demanding any types of behaviour from the students, but rather from ourselves. Positive Pedagogy requires us to become role models, supporters, followers, inspirers, co-travellers, guides, mentors, partners, and friends.
Positive Pedagogy is a unique approach that encourages teachers to open their hearts towards individuality of students and to welcome them as they are. This seems particularly important in schools and nurseries because labelling and comparing happens just too often there. Positive Educators become supporters of their students and let them be the main directors of their own life. This is to say, we follow our students and in essence it is them who show us the best pathway. Such approach does not collide with the curriculum we need to teach. It should become part of our teaching, the same way our personality is part of us. Positive Pedagogy means learning to listen and observe students to know more about them as individuals in oder to be able to offer them more supporting environments to grow and advance. So in essence, our role as educators is to support and not to teach, to offer and not to impose, to welcome and not to demand. When we become more open-minded and start to welcome other people with all their differences, our students will do it too and, as a result, become naturally caring and compassionate.
Here is a few things that educators can do to help children become more caring and loving:
See your students as Individuals – each of your students is an absolutely unique human being with his or her very individual needs. There is no other child like them anywhere in the world, so to really help them achieve their full potential you need to acknowledge this first. And this means accepting the fact that your students will have their unique talents, passions and interests. In your teaching you need to consider all these differences and plan how to cater for them. To develop self-love and self-respect your students need to feel that no matter what they do and what their academic performance is, they will be accepted by you as individuals. They need to feel that you do not judge them through their academic achievements, grades, failures and successes.
Many of your students will see you as their mentor, and this is what you would really like to achieve. If you fully accept your students with all their individual differences, it will be easy to express it in your teaching. You will become partners and your students will trust you, will come to you with their problems, and ask for advice. Don’t try to shape your students to be someone you would like them to be, or to develop certain character traits which you think may be useful for their professional or private future life. Let your students be as they want to be, and while supporting them at all times offer your total acceptance. Not everyone wants to go to university, not every student wants to study science or languages. By the same token, it is OK to be shy, talkative or adventurous. Your students need to believe that the way they are now is already perfect because only then will they love themselves.
Positive Feedback – the way we offer our feedback as teachers makes a huge difference to our students. It is not always what we say that matters, but how we say it. Try to
avoid too much negative language when you give feedback to your students. Instead of saying “Don’t do this!” say “Try doing that”. This way you not only avoid inducing guilt but also give practical guidance by pointing out better solutions. If your students tend to do things that often upset you, then try to praise them whenever they do something that you approve of. Instead of showing faults, find good things about your students’ behavior that you appreciate and show how happy you are about these. Your positive feedback helps your students feel more confident, helps them notice good things about themselves and develop their understanding and appreciation of their assets and talents. This is particularly important in a school environment as positive feedback boosts students’ self-esteem and when offered consistently to all students helps build the spirit of teamwork and community where students do not need to compete but work towards the common goal. The last one seems especially valuable nowadays when the ability to work in a team where respect for others matters the most is one of the most sought after qualities on a professional market.
Support Independence – observe what your students like and prefer doing, and organise your classes to allow your students to use their skills. This again does not collide with the curriculum as you can still easily teach what you need to teach, but plan it in a way that your students’ skills and talents are used in full and can be stretched further. Depending on the age group you teach it may be dressing up, buckling shoes, reading on their own, discovering new ways of approaching problems, presenting complex ideas, doing research, etc. Try not to insist on correcting the things your students have done or help them out when they don’t need it. If they put their shoes on the wrong feet, it doesn’t matter that much. What is more important here is that they did things because they were confident they could. Your positive support means your students will feel more secure about developing their skills and trying out new things.
Allow for Manageable Risks – stretching skills involves taking risks, and your students have already been doing so. When you think of Early Years children they learned to crawl, then to stand without being supported until they finally were able to walk. With older children they constantly learn how to manage their risks in new situations and contexts, they explore new areas of their life even when not allowed to do so. When children take manageable risks their confidence grows, they start to understand their body and emotions better, and become more aware of what they can do and what their limitations are. By receiving positive feedback for trying children feel more encouraged to keep up. When you offer them enough space to test their skills they instantly know that you trust them. For some children, especially those who do not receive enough support at home, your trust will mean a lot – it will be a sign that you feel that they have developed enough skills to be safe and secure in what they are doing. To offer suitable guidance here you need to know well what your individual students are capable of and whilst you allow them to explore and go further you are still there to offer support as/when they need it. Allowing you students to manage risks appropriately will ultimately help them become more secure and safe. This is particularly important at school and in nursery settings where children learn how to let others know what their own personal limits are, and what kind of behavior and attitudes are not acceptable. Additionally, they learn how to avoid potentially dangerous situations and conflicts, and how to protect themselves from harm and abuse.
Examples of manageable risks are: letting off a child’s hand when on a sea saw, letting your students initiate a conversation with someone new, allowing your child to explore the playground the way the want it even if it means climbing trees instead of using the apparatus, letting your students be responsible for a project.
We need to keep in mind, however, that what is safe for one child may not necessarily be so for another, and it will be all down to the child’s individual physical and mental capabilities. Therefore, putting pressure and encouraging your students too much to do the things they may not necessarily feel confident about may be damaging to their self-confidence and may undermine their sense of safety and wellbeing.
Offer Enabling Environments – allowing your students to explore the world the way they want means respecting their individuality. It also means creating opportunities for growth in the areas that we as educators not necessarily feel confident about. As long as you allow your students to explore their own passions and interests by means of your classes and teaching and offer enough space to learn new things, you will support their growth as individuals. Enabling Environments also means organising your classroom/setting environment in a way that all the resources such as books, toys, clothes, games, food are easily accessible at all times, and that the environment encourages self-care (in the case of younger children, e.g. by providing a toilet step, easy-to-do shoes and clothes, etc.), decision making, and independence.
Minimise Competition – essentially competition means going against someone and when you go against someone, it’s extremely difficult to be caring, loving and understanding towards this person. The main motivation is to compare, to win, or show who is better or worse. Competitive mind is not self-loving as self-love means you don’t really need to prove who is better. Therefore, a competitive mode is based on false self-confidence. You can minimise competitive attitudes in your setting/classroom by allowing your students to take their time to complete tasks or projects, or do the things for the sake of doing them and not necessarily to achieve certain expected results. It also means praising your students regardless of the quality of their achievements, as well as trying to avoid comparing them with others or testing them. In a classroom environment the most common problem and the cause of discrimination, conflicts and bullying is competition. If not offered appropriate support students compare themselves with others and either their self esteem lowers or they develop false self esteem. Minimising competition will help your students feel good about themselves as they are. And once they feel good about themselves they will not need competition to prove themselves. This, however, does not mean that playing games where someone has to win is bad. There is and always will be some sort of competition around, although if not taken too seriously and not aimed at discrimination, will not do any harm.
Encourage Creativity – children by nature are creative and it is their creativity mixed up with curiosity that help them learn about and understand the world. They explore the world by experimenting with it, and they already know there is no right or wrong way of doing this. By experimenting they also learn about cause and effect. Every child, and by the same token every student, is creative and by creativity we don’t mean arts & crafts. Children constantly create when they play and explore: they build and construct, use their body, tell stories, dress up, mix things and substances together, play with sounds and movement, design, construct, etc. They create without being worried about the outcomes, and because they welcome whatever result arises it helps them stay open-minded in the process of creation. The open-mindedness if nurtured will easily result in being naturally welcoming towards other people and life events. To nurture such attitudes it is enough to encourage unrestricted creativity as often as possible. Again, this does not need to go against your curriculum – it is enough to introduce Discovery Approach and Active Learning into your classroom.
Respecting your students as individuals and allowing them to explore their inner world and then express themselves the way they need as individuals are the most important and the only things you can really do if you are serious about supporting your students’ growth and wellbeing. Every single step, no matter how small, towards becoming a more caring and loving teacher will make a huge and visible difference to your students. It will dramatically change the atmosphere in your classroom as everyone will feel respected, accepted and valued, which in turn will positively influence relationships between your students. As a teacher you may influence lives of hundreds! In fact you are doing it anyway. Why not to turn it into a fascinating journey right here at this very moment. A journey that you and your students will be truly excited about!
Why nurturing heart qualities in children is important and how educators can do it
Vito Matt (MA Edu) – Curriculum Developer and Instructional Designer