Teaching kids civic consciousness

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MY FRIEND Cindy asked if I would consider writing a piece about how children’s behaviour is shaped by how their parents behave. I thought it was a really good suggestion and even more so after a personal experience during a recent fundraising funfair at my daughter’s school.

Like many such events, lots of delicious finger-licking local food was sold and there were tables for people to sit around to have their meals. My family sat at one end of a table and another family sat at the other end.

When this family left the table, they did not bother to clean up their rubbish. There were food containers, packaging, bones and liquid from their soup items and drinks on the table. I am not sure why they assumed that someone else would clean up after them. After all, this was a fundraising event manned mainly by volunteers, with no cleaners in sight.

Even if there were designated cleaners, the least you could do is show them some consideration by organising your waste and leftovers in a way that would make their job easier.

Sadly, this type of non-civic consciousness is on the rise in our country. If we do not stem the rot at a very basic level at home, it can take root and grow into something quite unmanageable.

As another friend pointed out on Facebook, it almost seems as if some are ignorant of what constitutes civilised behaviour. We often see people putting their bags on the empty seats next to them while others are standing. Or those who buy one drink at a food court and sit there for two hours while others are waiting patiently for a table.

There are those who do not express their thanks when someone holds open a door for them, or do not have the courtesy to say sorry when they bump into another person.

What troubles me the most is when this type of behaviour is displayed by parents in the presence of their impressionable young children. Living in a larger community, we should try our best to be courteous, kind and considerate, and to show respect to others. I am neither a model citizen nor a perfect parent, but I do believe that as parents, we should try our best to model the behaviour we would like to see in our children and show them how to be thoughtful and considerate.

What we do daily as parents goes a long way. Our actions matter a lot more than what we say to our children. Whether we like it or not, our children are watching our every move. They are always looking at us to learn how the world works, and seeking to model what we do.

So, we need to be consistent and self-aware. We need to be conscious of our manners, remembering to always say “please” and “thank you” as well as to be grateful for the things we receive. We must also try to show kindness and consideration to everyone; whether they are family members, friends, cleaners, security guards, the less fortunate or complete strangers.

Most of all, we should try to show consideration for our children’s thoughts and feelings. This is something that I admit I find the most trying, especially on those exasperating days when my three-year-old twins are tearing through the house like hurricanes. I remember feeling really guilty for raising my voice at my kids on one such occasion, especially when my son asked me a few days after my original outburst, “Mummy, when I am a big boy, can I shout loudly at other people too?”

While we aim to be better role models for our children, we do not always have to be a perfect example for them to emulate. We can use these “imperfect” situations to let our children know that it is okay to make mistakes. In doing so, we show them how to cope with real life and recover from these situations whether it is through a sincere apology, self-reflection or some other remedial action. We should also not be above apologising to our children if required. After all, if we want to encourage positive changes in our children, we need to commit to change within ourselves.