Pro-Social Behavior, Costco, and Charlottesville
I was in Costco the other day, a place where manners and courtesy seem to stay in the parking lot. I was concentrating on finding my “zen” as carts bumped into me, people hung out in the middle of aisles not moving and children ran suicide missions in front of my cart to get to sample stations. I focused on my list, as my patience dwindled and I felt a primal scream emerging from the depths of my soul. It’s a unique place, Costco. It seems to have it’s own rules and social mores. But, as I found my bulk olive oil and toilet paper, I mused, this week might be a good week to write about pro-social behavior.
Pro -social behavior is behavior that benefits the needs and enjoyment of others. It involves empathy and awareness of others and can be modeled for children from a very early age. It is taught through the way we engage with our children and how we interact with other people while our children are watching. Are we thoughtful and curious about how our children are experiencing their world or are we on auto-pilot? It is exhausting to be engaged with another person 24 hours a day, so times of escape and re-charge are necessary, but ask yourself how often you are engaging in rote behavior, rather than connected activity. To behave in a pro-social way means to be aware and interested in another person, and then to act in ways that create harmonious engagement.
Our biggest obstacle as adults is a subtle disengagement that comes from multi-tasking.
I think there is a simple fix. Notice my use of the word simple. It’s not easy, but it is not a complex list of tasks either. I would like to advocate for a shift in thinking from the golden rule to the super golden rule. Rather than treating others how you would like to be treated, try treating others how they would like to be treated. This shift requires interest, engagement and connection. It is more than simply behaving in a kind way, it is behaving in a way that acknowledges the experience of the other person. When we model this for young people in the way that we treat them, they grow up with these subtle habits of pro-social behavior that will last a lifetime.
How does this look in practice?
While getting ready in the morning you realize you are late to get to school. Stella, your two year old still needs to put on her shoes and you are already in your head thinking about the errands you have to run after you drop her off. Your mind is cycling through your to-do list at 100 miles/ hour, meanwhile Stella is lying on the kitchen floor rolling her car through the legs of the stools. A pro-social action would be to lie down on the floor with Stella (or sit, or stoop) and to push pause on the rapidly moving list in your brain. Taking 3 minutes to play with Stella pushes pause for 3 minutes, BUT it gives your little one the acknowledgement that she and what she is doing is important to you. THEN you can say, Mommy is in a hurry to get you to school, so do you want to put on your shoes super fast, or should I? You’ve first acknowledged her, you’ve respected her by telling her what’s going on for you and you’ve let her know that the next things need to be done quickly.
I know that every day does not offer the time, the piece of mind, or the patience to put all of these behaviors into practice, but if you are a bit more mindful, you will find that it is easier and easier to find moments to engage this way.
Helping your little one to be more pro-social with their friends includes redirecting behavior using some of these phrases.
- you took that toy from Joey, I think that made him sad. Can you check in with him and see if he’s ok?
- Do you want to invite Lily to play with you in the kitchen?
- I think Maggie is looking for a friend to join her at the play-dough table, what do you think?
- It looks like Marten is sad that his daddy had to go to work. Maybe you can sit with him and share your book?
And, a final thought in these days after Charlottesville. The current social and political climate is chaotic. This means our adult minds are more cluttered with thoughts and concerns and stress. At times like these, it becomes more important for both you and your child, to find moments to truly connect and engage in the present moment.
It can feel beyond difficult to balance the fear and anger you might be feeling as a human in the face of news like what happened in Charlottesville this weekend, and enjoyment of your day to day activities with your young children. The pro- social tips offered above become even more important, particularly in how we as adults are engaging with other people in and outside our communities. When we have pre-school aged children, the best way to teach about tolerance and diversity is to ensure that they have diversity in their lives and are meeting people of many races and ethnicities. Also, the more you are modeling behavior that shows your values, the more you can pass those on to your children. When they are very young, take them with you to rallies and protests, as they become older, talk to them about what is happening in the news, in an age appropriate way.
The most important tool and asset you have is to reference their environment. What is happening at their school, or within their social group? Do they have friends of different ethnicities and can they share and enjoy those differences? The more curious you are about the people you encounter, the more curious and genuinely interested you give your children to be. Wonder creates opportunities for engagement and greater social learning. It is so important now to tap into our children’s natural instinct to be curious and check our own unconscious biases to allow a new generation of greater acceptance and unity.
As Hillel pondered, if not now, when?