Speaking Up for Children

Treating Children Compassionately

A question to consider: how would you like to be treated if you were a child in your program? The answers may guide our care.

I realize I forget to treat children compassionately. I can easily tune out the experience each child is having right now. Lots of other stuff fills my mental space and distracts me. I understand full well that I do better when I am fully present, eyes open, and clear. Reminders may help tune me back in.

All the great educators I know have found ways to work on themselves. It’s tough, sometimes, to set down our suitcase, to select being at ease, and to turn to what is happening right now. It’s a simple practice, constantly available, everyday.

How Would You Like to Be Treated?

One step in this work is to try to put into words what this child would like to have happen right now. Each time I taught the fundamental course in our early childhood program, I asked the class of teachers, parents, and care providers working with young children…

“If you were a child in your own program, how would you like to be treated?”

I invited them to write about that for a few minutes (most filled a full page) and then share what they wrote with two or three others. I had arranged seating for people at tables of four.

Before they shared what they wrote, I invited them to listen intently and silently to the person sharing, continuing through brief periods of silence, until that person felt they had fully shared their thoughts. Then the next person took a turn.

When their discussions finished, I called the class back into a large group, and I recorded their thoughts on the board. I gave them a copy at the next session, where we could talk on that a bit more.

I have kept a collection of these compilations, which I summarize here. The first four were usually spoken of right away.

If you were a child in your own program, how would you like to be treated?

  1. I don’t want to be bossed around.
  2. I want freedom of choice.
  3. I want to be looked up to.
  4. I want to be recognized as an individual.
  5. I want opportunities to be creative.
  6. I would like people to be happy to see me.
  7. I want to feel safe.
  8. I want to be treated with kindness.
  9. I want people to be patient with me.
  10. I want people to not be in a hurry.
  11. I want to be listened to.
  12. I want to know that my contributions are valued.
  13. I want to feel part of the community.
  14. I want the opportunity to learn from my mistakes by fixing them.
  15. I want to be included in decisions that are made.

Putting their conclusions together I found fifteen items seemed to include all their thoughts. I call this list Foundation Fifteen.

A Foundation Fifteen Compassion Challenge

I know this list has made a difference to me; it reminds me of what it means to care.

I have seen how teams of teachers can use it to remind themselves of the children’s perspective.

I posted it on the door of the adult restroom as a reminder to be compassionate and aware.

Besides making funny faces at my refection in the mirror, I read a bit of it every Monday morning before the children arrived.


Proclaiming the Foundation Fifteen can be a political act. We can remind everyone to be compassionate and aware of what its like not only for children at school and in care but also in the family, in the grocery store, and possibly, if we all did this work everywhere, change the world.

Next Values We Share