Value of the Month Excerpt (June)
Justice & Mercy
Obedience to law, fairness in work and play. An understanding of natural consequences and the law of the harvest. A grasp of mercy and forgiveness and an understanding of the futility (and bitter poison) of carrying a grudge.
Justice and mercy -- these words seem too abstract, multifaceted, maybe even too religious for children to understand. Yet when they are broken down into their simplest form, they are the basic values for every household -- the values around which everything else revolves.
There is both security and unity in the justice and fairness that exists in the home. The beginning lies in the developing of clear family laws and providing for repentance and apology as well as for consistent justice.
Perhaps the two most important things we've ever learned in our family about justice and mercy were taught to us by our oldest daughter as she was growing up. The first lesson came when she was about seven. We had tried to set up some "family laws" for her and her five-year-old sister. We had done so democratically by asking them to suggest laws. We wrote their suggestions on a list, along with our own and ended up with twenty-four family laws, ranging from "don't hit anyone" to "don't plug in plugs."
One Sunday seven-year-old Saren came home from Sunday School with a suggestion. "Dad and Mom," she said, "I think we've got way too many laws. I can't even remember half of them. I learned today that Heavenly Father only gave us ten laws! We need to simplify!"
And simplify we did. We worked our list down to five one-word laws that each child knew and understood; we connected them with natural-consequence punishments, and we felt that we at least were beginning to teach the value of justice in our family.
About three years later this same oldest daughter, now ten, reminded us, of the other principle that needs to go hand in hand with justice. Again it was Sunday, and again we had just returned from Sunday School. One of her little brothers had become angry with his sister and pushed her down. We were in the process of administering the punishment of sending the boy to his room, but Saren noticed the look on his face, which said he was sorry for what he'd done and concerned that he had hurt his sister. "You know, Dad," Saren said, "if someone is sorry and wants to apologize and promise not to do it again, he shouldn't have to have the punishment. In the Bible they call it repenting." -- Richard
Saren was right of course. One reason for repentance is to avoid punishment. And more is often learned from repenting than from being punished. Our five family laws now carry provisions for repentance and thus give us frequent opportunities to learn the two most difficult (and perhaps most important) skills of life -- namely to repent or improve and to forgive.
This value carries such importance -- and such relevance to our happiness. Children who learn to obey laws, to treat others fairly, and to be both repentant and forgiving can largely avoid the bitterness, the grudges, and the guilt along with the mental or physical imprisonment that are the consequences of not understanding or living the value of justice and mercy.
Set up simple family laws. This will help children know their limits and understand what is expected of them. It is best to do this in two "sessions." The first session is briefly to discuss with children the importance of laws. For example, there are government laws about stealing or cheating or hurting others. There are traffic laws that make it safer to be on the roads, and so on. We also need laws in our family so that we can be happier and so that everyone can know what is expected. Then ask the children for their input. What laws do they suggest? Make notes. Then tell them that you (as the parent or parents) will work on the laws and hold another family session when you are ready to discuss them.
After you (as parents) have decided on your family laws, write them on a chart and hold a second family session to explain them.
We suggest five simple, one-word laws that children can fully understand and easily remember:
- PEACE (no hitting, fighting, yelling, whining, etc.).
- PEGS (make a pegboard for each child, each with four pegs -- one representing family job, one for homework and practicing (if the child is learning a musical instrument), and one for evening things (room clean, teeth brushed, in bed on time). The law is to get each peg in each day.
- ASKING (don't go anywhere, invite anyone over, etc., without permission).
- ORDER (room straight, pick up after self).
- OBEDIENCE (do what parents say).
Discuss how each law makes family members happier.
Establish rewards to go with the keeping of each law and punishments to go with the breaking of each law. This helps children learn cause and effect and understand elementary justice.
Enhance the "payday" system for pegs by having a bonus for each of the other laws they have done well on keeping during the week (peace, asking, order, obedience). Adjust the payday reward system to match the ages and needs of your children.
The main punishment for disobedience to the five family laws should be the absence of reward. On payday praise a child who did well and basically ignore (rather than chastise) a child who did poorly.
Certain laws also need specific punishments. These should be as close to "natural consequences" as possible. Some examples and suggestions:
- PEACE: As discussed earlier, have a "repenting bench" where children who argue or fight have to sit until they can tell you what they (not the other child) did wrong.
- ASKING: If a child does something or goes somewhere without permission, then the answer should be "no" next time to remind him.
- ORDER: Other family members pick up a child's things and throw them on his bed. He has to put them away that evening.
- OBEDIENCE: Establish the password of please. When you ask a child to do something, say please. His trigger response word is "Yes, Mother" or "Yes, Father." When a child doesn't obey, or forgets the response word, say, "Let's start over." Ask him again, emphasizing please. If he still does not obey and say, "Yes, Mother," send him to his room.
Try to use repentance rather than punishment wherever possible. Let children avoid sitting on the fighting bench if they repent to each other, or avoid going to their room if they say they are sorry for not obeying and quickly rectify the situation.
Set the example. Show that justice and mercy are your values and that you, too, are trying to repent and forgive. When you make a mistake, lose your temper, fail to meet one of your responsibilities that involve a child, and so forth, make an obvious point of apologizing to the child and asking his forgiveness.
Strive to be viewed by your child not as one who is perfect but as one who is really trying to do better.
Be fair and consistent, but also tender and merciful. Again, teach this value by example. It is important to try to let neither rewardable behavior nor punishable behavior go unnoticed. Try to be consistent. On the other hand, don't make "quick justice" your whole goal. Always opt for repentance and forgiveness first, and only resort to punishment (showing your regret that it is necessary).
Methods for teaching this value:
Sample Method for Preschool Age: Turn Taking
Begin to establish the idea of fairness. One of the first words that toddlers should learn is turn. Two year olds (and even pre-two's) can understand this most basic form of sharing. Help them to take a short turn with a toy and then say, "Jamie's turn," as they pass it to the other child. Then help them to watch and wait for a moment until it is their turn again.
Praise them generously every time they give a turn to the other child. As mentioned earlier, some sort of timing device makes "turns" work better. Use an oven clock or egg timer to help small children take turns of two or three minutes. Explain that equal time is fair.
Sample Method of Elementary Age: The Sun and Cloud Game
This will help younger elementary-age children see that they can make themselves happy or miserable depending on their ability to repent and to forgive. Cut a yellow sun and a black cloud out of construction paper, along with two stick men or figures labeled "Billy" and "Eddy." Set Billy and Eddy on a table or on the floor and tell the following situations. Have the children put the sun over the head of the child who will be made happy by his actions and the cloud over the child whose actions will make him sad.
- A boy trips Eddy at school. Eddy is mad at the boy all day and keeps looking for a way to get even. (cloud)
- Billy opens his sister's drawer and takes some of her pencils. Then he feels badly about it and brings them back and says he is sorry. (sun)
- Eddy gets hit in the back by a ball another boy throws. It hurts for a minute and Eddy feels mad, but then he gets over it and tells the other boy he's okay and he knows the other boy didn't mean to do it. (sun)
- Billy leaves his mother's boots outside, and the dog chews one of them up. No one knows he was the one who left the boots out there, so he keeps it as a secret and doesn't repent or tell anyone. (cloud)
- And so on -- make up your own.
Sample Method for Adolescents: Discussion: Accepting Justice, Giving Mercy:
This will help older adolescents see the importance of both values and the relationship between the two. At an appropriate time ask older adolescents which they would rather receive -- justice or mercy. Try to evolve this into a discussion where you are able to understand together that justice is something we should all be prepared to accept -- for justice will always come, in some form, sooner or later. It is the law of the harvest and of cause and effect. Discuss the following quote by Emerson:
"Cause and effect are two sides of one fact. Every secret is told, every crime is punished. Every virtue is rewarded, every wrong is redressed, silence and certainty . . . cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed."
After discussing justice, turn to mercy. Explain that while we should accept justice, we should try to give mercy. Do not be interested in making others "pay" for their mistakes. Do not hold grudges or carry a chip on our shoulder. Discuss how these tendencies make us vindictive and vengeful and cause us to poison ourselves and our outlook.
Review the activities and stories that go along with this months value. Make sure everyone in your family understands the value so they can see how they can apply it in their own lives and situations.
Talk about the Monthly Value every morning and remind your family to look for opportunities to use the value throughout the day. They may also observe how others don't understand the value. Get your children to share their experience with the value each day at the dinner table or before you go to bed. Be sure to share your experience each day as well. It will help your children know that you are thinking about the value too.
For additional methods and ideas, consider a ValuesParenting Membership.