Schools got it wrong. Many parents got it wrong. Self-esteem is not a fundamental requirement for healthy child development. And here is why: Children who build strong self-esteem without compassion are unable to contribute to family and society in a meaningful way. The horror is this: Self-esteem without Compassion may have fueled the school shootings and violence that are prevalent across the nation. Celebrate the power of compassion for self and others to raise children who can then grow Self-esteem that is rooted in altruism and humanitarianism.
Gun violence in schools has been perpetrated by individuals who are struggling to feel good about themselves and fight back. Sadly, these perpetrators lacked a fundamental sense of awareness of the value of other human life. They never learned to think about the feelings and thoughts of others. They never learned that all people have hurt feelings. And all people have the capacity to work things out and create peace.
If we had one magic wish that could dramatically reduce school shootings and mass violence in America, it would be to put the spark of Compassion in the hearts of children across America. With compassion, a child who was hurt, devastated, disenfranchised could still remember that the person sitting in the next chair may have the same feelings. Compassion for self and others is what prevents humans from perpetrating cruelty, abuse, and violence. And it is the protection that children, families, and communities need.
And compassion for self and others is what fuels synergy, cooperation and society. Even the animal kingdom has brilliant examples of collaboration and caring between species. Take the symbiotic relationships between the birds and the rhino, each providing the other with valuable support.
Sadly, in our work with deeply trouble children and youth, we hear young folks talk about killing, cutting, shooting, and slaughtering human beings. Why? It is coming out of their own abusive pasts and is continued with developmentally unresponsive systems and services. We hear youth brag about how many people they harmed. They brag about the extent of harm they caused to other human beings.
And the solution is not to punish these children. Instead, we must show them compassion with healthy boundaries and limits. We must stop them in the act of smaller acts of cruelty or abuse. We must address bullying, theft, and abuse that happens across schools in this country every day. We must teach these children how we treat other human beings in the way we treat each of these children. And curiously, these are also strategies to promote self-regulation, lawfulness, and good citizenship.
And the process works. We work with children, youth, and families impacted by one of the most serious developmental challenges of childhood – Attachment Disorder [refers to Reactive Attachment Disorder RAD and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder DSED]. In our work, we teach parents and caregivers to respond with extreme compassion at the same time they set firm and healthy boundaries and rules. The unique combination of compassion and caring within a developmental framework with healthy boundaries and rules is what heals the broken hearts of children.
So join us in the upcoming conversations about how to address school violence, self-harming, and mass shootings. The time is not to realize that the effort to promote self-esteem in schools was intended to create a greater good. Instead, it may have contributed to tragedy and suffering. Instead, we must reintroduce compassion, caring, and integrity into schools, communities, and families.
When we promote Compassion for Self and Others first … then healthy Self-Esteem will finally emerge.
Dr. Darleen Claire Wodzenski is a Clinical Mental Health Professional and Special Education Consultant with a PhD in Psychoneuroeducational Psychology. Her work with Orchard Human Services, Inc. and PNE Institute, Inc. brings hope to families of children with severe and co-occurring disorders of Development, Mental Health, Learning, and Behavior including Neurodevelopmental, Neuroatypical, and Autism-related issues. A writer, national presenter, and trainer, she provides some direct services in the Metro Atlanta area including Atlanta, College Park, Cumberland, Alpharetta, Marietta and Hiram. She also provides services to children in the College Park area who attend Kinder Kollege Christian School, owned and directed by Orchard Human Services board member, Ms. Cheryl Safford.
The focus of Dr. Darleen Claire’s work is Attachment Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, child therapy, child mental health, and child development. She delivers Developmental and Special Educational Consultative services to families, schools, and organization by way of telephone and internet. She can be reached at 770-686-0894.