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“How the Child Thinks and the Way the Teacher Reacts”- Part 2 -What Does Kindness Look Like?

The Power of Noticing and What does Kindness Looks Like?
1. Noticing is a specific skill that is often confused with judging. A common response to seeing a child being helpful is to say, “Good job” or “Thank you.” Looking more closely, however, you can see how these kinds of phrases are judgments about a child’s behavior, not a “noticing” of the behavior itself.

Bill helps his sister climb into the car seat. Mom responds, “Thank you, darling.” The implied message from Mom is that Cameron has done the action for her, not for his sister. Marie taps her friend’s shoulder in the classroom, encouraging her to focus on the teacher. The teacher comments, “Good job, Marie.” The teacher’s implication is that Marie has measured up to standards. Noticing, on the other hand, requires a description of the child’s action.

For children to develop kindness, they must know what it looks like, feels like and sounds like. It must be labeled and described as it occurs; just as you label objects for a baby who is learning to speak: “Spoon. Mommy has a spoon. Here’s your spoon.”

2. Adjust your language to the developmental stage of the child and point out kind and helpful acts.
Under 3 years old: “You picked up your toy. That was helpful.” Notice how the kind action — picking up the toy — is described for the child. The praise is also kept brief so as to be easily grasped.

Four years and older: “Johnny, you held your sister’s arm so she could crawl into her car seat and ride safely. That was helpful.” Here again, the action of the kindness is described, but an additional element is added — a description of how the action contributes to other: “… so she could crawl into her car seat and ride safely.” The teacher in the previous section might have praised Marie’s action similarly: “Marie, you tapped your friend’s shoulder so she knew it was time to listen to the story. That was helpful.” Can you feel the difference between the phrases above and the casual, “Good job?”

3. Noticing describes the action, rather than judging it. By noticing helpful and kind acts in this way, we can achieve many developmental goals that lead our children to embrace our most cherished values.
• Describing children’s actions helps children become conscious of what they are doing in the moment: “You picked up the toys”; “You said thank you”; “You set the table.” This consciousness stimulates the development of the higher centers of the brain that are essential for problem solving.
• Stating how the action contributes to the welfare of others helps older children understand that they make a positive difference in the lives of others: “You picked up the toys so no one would fall”; “You said thank you so your friends knew you cared”; “You set the table, so we’d have the utensils needed to eat.”
• Adding a descriptive tag gives a name to these actions: “That was thoughtful”; “That was kind”; “That was helpful.” When we do this, we teach our children exactly what these qualities look like, feel like, and sound like.

“The Noticing Game” activity: Do this when you’re in the room and look around and see what is around you. Without a warning, ask children to close and cover their eyes. See how well they can describe the room. Let them take turns.

“It only takes one minute to hurt a child and destroy a life and … it only takes one minute to make a difference in a child’s life.”

Next week: Envy and Jealousy

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6 comments on ““How the Child Thinks and the Way the Teacher Reacts”- Part 2 -What Does Kindness Look Like?

  1. Elder Gabriel A. Adedapo

    Behaviour begins learning and ends it. Children exhibit both consciously and unconsciously certain behaviour in school, outside the classroom and at home. When teachers and parents care, they will be there and notice. When they are able to notice the behaviour, passion and love will make them to describe precisely the action and compliment

  2. John, I love this. In my book which I’m going to publish shortly on Amazon I’ve got a chapter on avoiding praise as well as punishment for the very reasons you’ve stated. But you’ve presented it far more succinctly than I have, and I’ll be referring people to your article from time to time.

    My only very slight adjustment to what you’ve written would be to say that for children to develop kindness and make a conscious decision to apply it in their own lives, their awareness of its benefits to others and themselves needs to be heightened by the naming and describing you illustrate so well. I say this because I think humans have an instinctive impulse to be kind, but one which is often masked by their need for attention. The beauty of your naming and describing is that it satisfies their core need for attention (as distinct from approval) at the same time.

  3. Thank you it is a great point. Making detailed comments help the children and even adults sometimes ,to analyse and evaluate their actions toward eachother . This is like mirroring by using a detailed comments and it works both for positive and negative actions. I think instead of shouting at children we can use the same method to articulate the effect of their actions and the consequences .

  4. Bill your examples are excellent. It take a bit more thinking to describe the child’s action, but it is so much more effective than saying something generic like, “Good job.” For a related article, “Effective Praise,” that may be of interest, see: http://www.kellybear.com/TeacherArticles/TeacherTip37.html

  5. Really useful and well explained.
    Thank you

  6. Iseult Catherine O'Brien

    The article on noticing behaviour and acknowledging actions of children is close to the core of Maria Montessori’s Method. As a Montessori teacher, I was taught not to praise a job well done or to criticize negatively a child’s efforts. We always point out how a child followed the instructions, and let him or her know that the work was done according to instructions. This lets a child know that he or she now knows how to carry out an activity and this boosts a child’s self-confidence, without the easy and possibly off-hand “good job”, which offer the child no information on how or why the work was carried out properly. Children respond very eagerly to comments on their work, because they appreciate the time and attention being given to them by the teacher.


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