Dr Justin Coulson thinks you cannot start too early to understand respect for others and develop skills for respectful relationships. He is a psychologist, parenting expert and media commentator (you can listen to a recent parenting interview here). However it was as a father of six daughters that he was musing on teaching respect for women and how old is old enough to understand, ‘Stop it’.
His eight year old daughter was ‘made to feel uncomfortable and afraid of going to school’ when a boy kept trying to kiss her.
Writing on his blog and for a regular media column late last year he mused that such unwanted behaviour might once have been dismissed by adults as cute or romantic. They’re only children right?
We are more conscious than ever that for some people, over time, those persistent anti-social behaviours in childhood become something else. At some point they cross the line and become acts of abuse and violence. When does that happen? At what point do we say: now is the time this behaviour is unacceptable. When do we as parents and educators take notice of those seemingly small but unwelcome acts by one child towards another?
The horrifying toll of violence against women and children begins somewhere. One in three women aged over 15 years have been subjected to physical violence and one in four have been emotionally abused by a partner. Many children witness or experience family and domestic violence.
Eight years is old enough. Dr Coulson concluded a boy or girl of eight years would understand what someone means when they say: ‘Stop it, I don’t like it’. And if it is old enough for a child to understand, then adults can understand and act too.
Children understand at a young age by the response of adults whether the adult will support the child or look away. After all the behaviour we walk past is the behaviour we accept said a determined Chief of Army and 2016 Australian of the Year, Lieutenant General (Rtd), David Morrison.
Exactly where violence begins Dr Coulson was unsure but in musing on the boy’s behaviour towards his daughter, he was sure about one thing:
… it is undeniably disrespect. And pervasive disrespect leads to violence and harm.’
– Dr Justin Coulson
Do you walk past pervasive disrespect from one child to another or within groups of children? What does it mean to intervene sensitively and support children to critically reflect on what is happening?
Learn more about how educators can do this and the role of respect in fostering strong healthy relationships in young children at Start Early. Respectful relationships for life. Start Early is a series of three free online short modules for early childhood educators. It also offers blogs, resources and links for early childhood educators. The modules explore how respect and relationships begin early in young children’s development. Educators play an important role in supporting children to develop skills for strong, positive lifelong relationships. You can read more by Dr Justin Coulson at his blog www.justincoulson.com/blog or listen to his parenting strategies that emphasise respect for children in trying times (Life Matters interview on ABC RN).