How do We Teach our Children To Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt?

 As with any matter of the heart, it’s difficult for children to learn and practice a principle that they do not see modeled in the home.  So, our first order of business is to assess what kind of example we are to our children in helping them to see the good in others, doubt the bad, assume the best, and discard the unpleasant.  

Seeing the good in others…begins by discussing and committing to that very purpose.  One thing I think we can all agree on is that we tend to find what we’re looking for, whether that is something good or something bad.  If we have a relationship with someone that tends to “get under our skin” due to their constant talking, then I assure you, every time we are with this person, that’s all we will observe.  However, if we tell ourselves that today, when we are with this same person, we are going to figure out one thing that this person has, that we could use a little more of in our own life, then I promise you, you will find something.  It’s a matter of purpose.

We can teach our children to focus on what people have to offer, as they hear us continually pointing out the good in others.  There is no better training ground for them than listening to their parents exhibit this compassionate and empathetic skill.  

For example, perhaps our daughter might ask: 

“Mom.  Why is Grandma always complaining about everything?”

Mom—“You know honey…I think because of her age, Grandma just doesn’t feel good most of the time and I think that makes it difficult to be really positive.  But, did you know that Grandma let both her mother and her mother-n-law live with her for the last few years of their lives, so that she could take care of them.  She is such an amazing lady.”

 Perhaps, our son might say:

“Dad.  I don’t like to go outside when I see Mr. Smith outside next door, because he always has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and I can smell the smoke.”

Dad—“Well, I’m sure Mr. Smith is not aware that his smoke is bothering you but I can tell you this, that is the hardest working man I know and he’s also a war hero.  We owe him our deepest gratitude for the sacrifice he made on our behalf.”

Parents, can you see the opportunity here?  Can you hear the power that is within our lips to profoundly impact how our children learn to see others?  It’s so exciting!

What about the bad?

Sure, we want our children to be cautious and to understand risk and dangers, however for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume those are not the situations we are speaking about.  For this discussion, we are speaking about the negative things about others such as past mistakes, personal weaknesses, character flaws and less than honorable moments.  It’s easy to talk about these things when it’s someone else we’re speaking about, but what if someone wants to talk about our past mistakes, personal weaknesses, character flaws and less than honorable moments?  Are you as interested in that conversation?

No, I didn’t think so.

You see, for us to help our children learn to refrain from focusing on such things, we must not fall into the trap of doing so ourselves.  I appreciate a few concepts I’ve learned over the years: #1, just because someone has a bad moment, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person and #2, since God loves us even though he knows our flaws perfectly, shouldn’t I do my best to love others despite what I think I know?

Here’s what I do know.  We are not a sum of our mistakes.  We do not have to be defined by our mistakes.  You and I don’t want this so shouldn’t we do our best not to label and define others by their mistakes?  Here’s an example of two conversations that teach children two different ways to view others.

First One

Child—“Mom, I really like my math teacher, Mr. Green.  He’s super fun and really laid back.”

Mom—“Well, I just found out that last semester, there was a disciplinary hearing for him because of how he spoke to a student, so let’s hope that taught him a lesson.”

Second One

Child—“Mom, I really like my math teacher, Mr. Green.  He’s super fun and really laid back, but I heard from a friend today that he got in trouble last semester for how he handled a student.”

Mom—“You know honey, it’s not polite for people to spread gossip (whether true or not), announcing mistakes that someone has made in the past.  That did not involve us and we don’t know any of the facts so it’s best to just tell your friends that you’re not interested in stories that shine a poor light on others.”

Now I realize, you may be thinking right now, “But Monica…sometimes people need to know information that could protect them or others.”  Once again, of course.  That is a different conversation and one we must have with our children, but that’s not what we’re talking about here and the truth is, that’s not the more common situation.

It’s never ok to assume the role of informing others of other people’s unflattering moments.  Truthfully, it’s a backwards way of trying to build ourselves up but in reality, it’s an ugly behavior that shines very poorly on ourselves.

At the “end of the day,” I know you want what I want for my own children.  I want them to be kind, compassionate, empathetic.  I want them to refrain from judging others and from assuming the worst in people.  I want them to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and look for the good.  Why?  Because this helps them to live happier lives.  It helps them to have healthier happier relationships.

May you and I be more careful with our own conversation.  May we continue to look for opportunities to teach our children to notice the good in others.  In doing so, we will raise better human beings.

Monica Irvine