Last week one of my daughters came home from preschool repeating a phrase she had learned from her teacher. It is one that I use quite often in my own teaching, but when I heard it come out of my 3-year-old's mouth (with the R's sounding like W's and the cute, high-pitched tone), it gave me pause.
The phrase? "Worry about yourself".
I think it struck me most because just a few days before I heard my daughter say it, I had heard her teacher tell me at parent conferences that my daughter was very good at helping the other students, and even the teachers, when she sensed that they needed something or were not feeling well. Isn't it kindof backwards to tell children NOT to worry about anyone else, but rather to only worry about themselves? And yet we say it all the time.
We have very good reason for saying it. I usually use it when students are, in a rather haughty or accusatory tone, telling other students what to do (and thus creating more noise, chaos, and conflict). Because the original offenders are then getting offended by the other students telling them what to do, I tell all of the students to "stop worrying about what other people are doing and worry about yourself". We say it because we want them to mind their own business and let us, the teachers, handle any inappropriate behaviors (since we clearly know how to handle it more appropriately without hurting students' feelings and making a small problem into a bigger problem).
But what about teaching children how to help each other? How to correct and remind without offending? What about teaching children to be able to accept help when it is offered graciously instead of automatically getting defensive?
I think telling students to mind their own business- to worry about themselves- is the easy way out. That's why we say it so often. But when I really think about it, that's not what I really want my students to do. I want them to be able to help and accept help from each other. I want them to worry about each other in a healthy and empathic way.
I don't want my 3-year-old daughter to stop running across the room to get the tissue box when she sees another student has a booger hanging out of their nose. I don't want her to stop asking the teacher, in a concerned little voice, if she is tired. In fact, I want to teach all of my students to do exactly what she is doing right now- show concern and care for the other people in her classroom community.
Instead of telling everyone to worry about themselves, I want to start talking to my classes about how to help each other, when to ignore small things that come up, when to let an adult or someone else handle something, and how to accept help and reminders when they are offered. It will certainly take more time than telling everyone to mind their own business, but I think it will also help foster important character traits and develop a healthy and safe classroom community as well.
Do you use this phrase in your classroom? Have you ever thought about it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.