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Lessons on Respect From To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away on Feb. 19. Most children read To Kill a Mockingbird, in 8th or 9th grade. Many, many students cite it as the best book they ever read. To honor her, I had my students watch the scene from the movie of the book when Atticus Finch talks with his daughter, Scout, about the importance of understanding the perspective of another person. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” The current political discourse (or lack thereof) demonstrates to our children a lack of respect for others. That is not meant to be a political statement, because it happens within both parties.

One way to talk to your children about respect and empathy is to watch and discuss this video clip with them. Here are some suggested talking points.

•    What does Atticus mean when he says, “…climb in his skin and walk around in it”?
•    Have you ever tried doing that? When? How did you feel?
•    Does this apply to us on a daily basis? Can you think of some examples?
•    What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? (You might be surprised by your child’s reply.)
•    If someone treats you badly, does that give you the right to treat another person badly?
•    What are some ways to show genuine respect for others even when they are different from us?

Children learn respect from the adults around them. The adults in their life should choose their words carefully and never belittle others in front of the child. Our children need to learn that we can disagree about important matters without disliking the person who disagrees. What you say makes a difference. How your child sees you treat him and others makes an even bigger difference! I encourage you to spend some time with your child watching this scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.

You might enjoy reading a related blog post, The Power of Positive Attention for Teens.

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