Is it just a phase they are going through?

According to one of my university textbooks there are four stages of intellectual development we all go through:

Piaget’s four stages of intellectual (or cognitive) development are:

  • Sensorimotor. Birth through ages 18-24 months.
  • Preoperational. Toddlerhood (18-24 months) through early childhood (age 7).
  • Concrete operational. Ages 7 to 12.
  • Formal operational. Adolescence through adulthood.

We know that schools do much more than impart knowledge, they are social learning organisations where we, in partnership with families, impart the skills our students need to effectively relate to others- so that they are able to become fully functioning and valued members of society.

We know that through their relationships with others and their growing awareness of social values and expectations, children build a sense of who they are and of the social roles available to them.

As children develop socially, they both respond to the influences around them and play an active part in shaping their relationships

I think that there is a stage that none of the theorists have identified. I call it the Wombat Stage.

This occurred to me when I was rereading the fabulous Jackie French book, Diary of a Wombat.

In the book (and its subsequent stories) Mothball is a much loved part of her family but manages to go through life oblivious of the impact of her often wilful, self-centred and destructive activities on the rest of the family.

Sometimes people are really very wombat-like.

The interesting thing about the phenomenon I call Wombat Thinking is that it appears and disappears at different stages in a person’s development and it appears some people never really “grow” out of it.

The common theme is that the wombat “child” appears indifferent to the impact its words, actions and inactions can have on the welfare of others.

Now, that is quite probably appropriate for the first couple of years of a child’s life, but it worries me when I see striking enduring evidence of this attitude in adolescents and even in some adults.

You can often identify Wombat thinking through behaviours, but also through the language used.

If you hear expressions like

“I was only…”
“But everybody else is…”
“I have rights, you know…”
“You can’ t stop me from…”

or even

“I’m doing the HSC, you know!!!”

you might be facing a case of wombat thinking.

Strangely, the “wombats” among us always have a reason why the rules they expect others to follow do not apply to them.

They are very aware of their rights but seem to have missed the bit about responsibility, and have no concept that others might have rights as well.

As anyone who has ever encountered a wombat in the wild that feels threatened will know, human “wombats”, like their wild role models, are often willing to lash out if they are questioned or confronted with an alternative view of their attitudes and behaviours.

“Wombats have a reputation for being cute and cuddly but a woman mauled by one in Canberra has warned others to stay away from the marsupials. Kerry Evans suffered more than 20 bites and lacerations across her body after she was attacked by a large wombat while walking her dogs in a suburban street in Banks, in south Canberra, on Monday night.” Canberra Times, 2016.

Sometimes the “wombat” child will “hate” us for our actions, declare that they are being “picked on” for nothing, throw the odd tantrum, argue in the face of logic, threaten “revenge” etc.

But for this to stop being a lifestyle, and to make sure it is “just a phase” they are going through, we have to confront this behaviour.

For the wombat’s sake, the welfare of those they encounter and society in general, we have to confront this behaviour.

Part of our role as educators at SCAS is to make a serious effort to show our students that they are blessed with safety and opportunity to grow and prosper, but that they also have a responsibility to consider the welfare and feelings of others. In short, we have a duty to turn egocentric thinking into positive social thinking and behaviour.

We know this will not always make us “popular” but we also know that it is part of the SCAS education. In fact, science has proven that in doing this we are promoting better health in our students: There are more benefits to contributing and doing good deeds than most of us think. And they are even backed by science. Doing good makes you happier, together with making other people’s lives easier or better in some way. What’s more, it boosts your overall health.”

So while we may be amused by Mothball antics on the page (and on the stage), we will keep expecting our “wombats” to grow out of their selfish phase and become decent, thoughtful people. Please don’t expect anything less from us.

Rules and limits are important for guiding children’s behaviour

Children need to know what you expect of them in order to behave appropriately. This does not mean giving children lots of dos and don’ts – having too many rules, or rules that are too complicated, often confuse children. It is often helpful to involve children in setting some basic rules. This helps them understand the value of having rules and motivates them to cooperate. For example, you might discuss as a family the sorts of rules that will help you all get on well together. These might include things like talking to each other rather than shouting, asking before borrowing things, putting away games and toys after playing with them, or taking a turn to wash up after dinner. Deciding as a family those things that are most important to you and stating rules positively so that children know what to do rather than simply being told what not to do works best.

Set limits

Set limits for children by giving clear directions for what you expect of them. Providing reasons for the directions you give helps children accept your limits without becoming defensive. It also gives them a basis for understanding what you will expect of them in other similar situations.