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Can You Teach a Child to be Wise

May 1, 2014
AUTHOR: COLIN TAUFER

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Google “wise man,” and inevitably, hundreds of long grey beards populate your screen. Proof that it’s hard to disassociate wisdom with old age. A wise man is always an old man: Confucius, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin.

But does this have to be the case? Must the path to wisdom include advancing to old age?

We can all think of remarkable children who have done something “wise beyond their years”: the nine-year-old girl who silenced the world for five minutes or the boy who harnessed the wind and brought electricity to his tiny African village. Old age is not a requisite for wisdom. While these examples are extraordinary, it does not mean that wisdom in children is extraordinary. Quite the contrary, I propose that wisdom is not simply an exceptional and innate attribute, but one that all children have and can be developed and strengthened.

The modern dictionary defines “wisdom” as knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action. A classic definition, as given by Webster’s (1828), defines “wisdom” as “The right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them. This is wisdom in act, effect, or practice.”

Working out what wisdom is gives us a path for getting there. Children are naturally curious. They want to learn. They want more knowledge. The question is not how to motivate them to learn but to figure out how to not de-motivate them. A child can figure out your smartphone intuitively faster than you can with the owner’s manual in hand. Put another way, make your child study the owner’s manual first before they get their hands on your smartphone, and I guarantee they will no longer be motivated to activate your phone.

Similarly, children are naturally compassionate. They want to help. In this regard, it is important to remember the importance of the example being shown to the child. When the very young child drags a broom across the kitchen floor in an effort to help but knocks a glass of water onto the floor in doing so, are you happy for the effort to help or annoyed by the spilled water? Your reaction to this will color the child’s opinion of help, for better or worse.

Keep your child’s love of knowledge and learning alive by not demotivating them. Allow them the chance to help without blunting their willingness to help, and you will have sown the seeds of wisdom in your child.

Author: Colin Taufer

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