It isn’t often that young children talk about their struggles with ethical or psychological issues, but there is no doubt that as they grow and live in a community they grapple with such issues. Since they usually don’t have abstract conversations about such matters, even when they are clearly thinking about them, it is fascinating to witness situations that reveal their thinking. I was fortunate to see this happen recently at a meeting of the school’s Judicial Committee.
A complaint was filed against five-year-old Anna (I’ve changed the names to protect their privacy), who had been angered by her seven-year-old sister Ellen’s comment about a drawing she was making. Anna had a little fit; she threw a box of markers on the table and toppled a bin containing yarn on the floor. When she had calmed down, she picked up everything, so that in the end no harm had been done. Because of that, the JC decided not to charge her with any rule violation.
However, during its investigation the JC had called Ellen in to be a witness, at which point the simple facts were put into context and a real story emerged. It turned out that Ellen had told Anna to change something in her picture, emphasizing that “it was only a suggestion” and Anna “didn’t have to do it if she didn’t want to”. While Ellen was testifying, she looked quite agitated, and after a few moments of thought she said: “I realize that I have to be more careful with what I say to my little sister. I told her that she didn’t have to do what I suggested but now I realize that she takes what I say more seriously than I want her to, and I can understand why she got so upset.”
I was astounded. Here was a seven year old child who was clearly articulating her younger sister’s point of view, and was drawing insightful conclusions about why her behavior had been wrong.
I am quite sure that this kind of thing happens often at school, but it usually happens out of sight. I am so glad that this one time I was there to observe it.