Written by Adena McCowan – Mental Health Assistant
The conscience is an internal voice that guides us to act with kindness, respect, and fairness—and to make things right when we do not act this way. The critical period for developing the conscience is in the first three years of life. The positive experiences adults share with young children—hugging, touching, sharing, laughing, and guiding—celebrate the child and invite them to care for themselves and others. When these experiences happen, they can set a child on a path toward affirming life and bringing happiness into the lives of others. The beginning parts of conscience are compassion, sympathy, and empathy.
Compassion is an emotional experience or awareness of the emotions of others. An example is a child who mirrors your look of sadness when you get bad news, or read a sad part in a book.
Sympathy puts compassion into action. An example is when a child hugs a classmate who is crying.
Empathy is an intellectual experience that involves understanding how another might feel in a certain situation. An example would be a child wanting to give an older sister a toy horse, because they know she likes horses.
Growing these skills in our children affects their ability to handle relationships for their entire life. And handling relationships maturely is strength!
Information adapted from National Association for the education of Young
Children (“I’m Sorry” by Charles A. Smith, PhD)
Ideas for teaching Caring & Conscience
· Model respect to the child by moving to their eye level when they talk to us.
· Respond in ways the child finds comforting when they are sad, angry, or afraid.
· Showing we are happy to see them when they arrive and communicating how we have missed them.
· Find time to listen carefully to them. This might be right after school or just before bed.
· Model caring for others. Do they hear you ask, “Are you ok?” and “How was your day?” And do they see you truly listen for a response?
· Help a child understand how their actions made someone else feel. If they hit a friend, point out that their friend is crying and is sad.
· Instead of having a child say an “I’m Sorry!” they do not really mean, guide them in making things right with the child who was hurt. Have them help get a Band Aid or get their friend a drink.