Last Friday I went to a training provided by U.C. Davis through Humboldt County’s Department of Health and Human Services. [My sincere thanks to them.] The title of the training was “Values, Morals, and Caring Confrontation,” and it was presented by Dr. Lorraine Fox. While the material covered was of great value, it was the instructor who made it worthwhile. Lorraine Fox has a doctorate in clinical psychology, a doctoral certificate in organizational development, and she’s been working in child and youth care and human services for 45 years. The really cool part is she began doing all this in the 1960s without any specific training (other than having been a camp counselor), and then she eventually went back for the degrees. That means she comes at it primarily from the point of,”Does this work in real life?” She is one of the most effective and down-to-earth presenters I have ever learned from.
The training was intended for foster parents, social workers, and anyone who works with “troubled kids” on a regular basis. It would also make a fantastic training class for parents. Lorraine asked at the start what we most hoped would be covered in the training, and then she tweeked her presentation to cover those topics. She easily had enough material to cover a semester of training in this area, but she was very skillful at not going off on tangents — everything she said was to the point and useful. There was so much good information, but what most fascinated me was her discussion of how a conscience is developed.
During the first six years of a child’s life, we are helping a child learn the values and morals we see as important, and/or that are important in our culture. There is no way to avoid teaching that child values. Either we are teaching the child they have power to shape their surroundings (which leads to better self-esteem), or that they are powerless. We teach them kindness toward the world around them, or we teach them meanness and control. Simply being around the child, we teach them what is important and what is not. Children soak that up like little sponges, and by the time they are six-years-old they have internalized whatever we have taught them. Which means they either have a self-regulating conscience, or they do not. That is significant. The ability to function in a group depends on having a conscience. It is not something you beat into a child, it is something you teach with words and example. And it is something that takes repetition, every day for years. It takes effort. Thankfully, most kids have a conscience. They go to school, generally get along with everyone, and are ready to learn more about life. It’s the ones who have been abused, neglected, ignored, and otherwise mistreated during those first six years who have not learned to self-regulate, and who are very apt to go on to have problems with life, and to create problems for those around them. They only “behave” if someone is watching them, and eventually they may learn how to act, but only because they want to avoid getting into trouble — not because such actions are “right” or “wrong.”
So to all those mothers, fathers, pre-school teachers, care-givers, and everyone else working with little children who take their jobs seriously — thank you! Thank you for listening, for talking with them, for modeling the behavior you hope they will learn, and for helping them feel good about themselves and to care about those around them.
PS If you would like to learn more about Dr. Lorraine Fox and read some of her work, please visit her site. My sincere thanks to her for presenting this material!