With two small children, making sure I impart my values to them is critical to me. If I fail in having children who have a strong ethical and moral fiber, I will feel like I've failed as a parent. There are so many negative influences out there - I just had a conversation with a friend of mine whose son is being bullied on the bus where the bully's parents deny there could ever be a problem - which makes it a far more daunting task than it used to be.
Ian James Corlett has recently written a book to help set our children on that right path. E is for Ethics is a book with twenty-six short stories that focus on different situations that children are likely to come across from integrity to perseverence to helpfulness. Each story is told from the point of view of Elliott and Lucy, who are typical little kids.
These stories began from weekly conversation Ian and his wife had with their own two children to help them deal with potential problem situations and they would then talk about how the children should and could handle each of the situations and how they felt. The stories in the book are derived from those Monday after dinner talks and are simple and entertaining. At the same time, they aren't talk down to children, making them fun to read and experience with your children.
After each story, Ian has included four or five questions and discussion topics as a jumping off point for parents to really talk about the story, what it means, and how it relates to their own children. They range from, "How do you feel after being helpful?" to "Why do you think Lucy was disappointed?" to "Sometimes we say that dogs are loyal. What could we learn from them?"
I've really enjoyed reading these stories to the wee ones. Mister Man has a tough time with perseverence sometimes (he has strong perfectionist tendencies), and being a child with autism, empathy isn't always the easiest for him. Little Miss doesn't always show the strongest effort, but the story on effort has hit home with her.
They're only two or three short pages for each story, so they're a great way to have a quick conversation or get deeper into a topic, depending on how time allows. While I try to give examples of how I've had to demonstrate some of these characteristics in my life and childhood, I love how these are organized so I don't have to try to file through my memory trying to find something applicable.
The wee ones love the books, too, saying that the stories are "awesome" - and I'm hoping that they will be another brick in the foundation I'm trying to build. I appreciate that while this is aimed at younger children, at the end of each chapter, there are quotes from famous people about each topic that helps keep this relevant even as the wee ones grow a little more.
I was lucky enough to be able to also have a Q&A with Ian Scott Corlett.
Who was the biggest influence in your life for your ethics?
What a great question. I wish I could point to one person but I honestly have to say that it really comes down to being an observer and citizen of the world. So many people, me included, fail at certain ethical decisions whereas others show incredible strength of character. I thin it’s really fluid. We should always be trying to do better. Read modern philosophers like Ekhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer, and also look to classic figures like Jesus, Buddah and Aristotle. Paying attention to politics is a great way to learn ethical behavior too! (that last one was an obvious joke!)
Has your view of ethics changed since you've had your own children?
Most definitely! When they pooped into our lives I really took stock. I (and by *I* of course I mean we, my wife and I) looked at the kids as a building project. Every good building project starts with a solid foundation. And part of that foundation needs to be the understanding of ethics and values. Every family will have their own take on what those morals and values are, but the important thing is to start the discussion and start EARLY.
What do you think is the biggest mistake parents make?
Thinking that kids will figure these things out on their own. Actually that's only half true. Kids WILL figure things out on their own. They are like a cross between a sponge and a photocopier. They listen, see and observe everything you do and one way or another they repeat your actions and decisions. So you need to be brutally honest with yourself first and not think for a minute your kids won't see you for who you really are. So parents, make the changes you need to make first so you can show your kids the right way to live before you try to tell them anything different.
Do you think your children will continue “Family Fun Time” with their own children? If so, how do you think they will change it?
Boy I sure hope so. My 11-year-old daughter has already told her mom that she really wants to try to be a stay-at-home mom for her kids if and when she has them. She notices and appreciates the time and relationship element of the family dynamic we are very fortunate to have. And as far as changing the format, I have no doubt they will. Both my kids have very vibrant personalities so I'm sure they'll come up with something!
What were the ethics that were the hardest for your children to grasp - loyalty, perseverance, willingness?
Hmmm. Empathy was tough. And strangely enough so is fairness. But for different reasons. Fairness is difficult because it is not always black and white. Often it depends on what side of the issue you're on whether you felt you've been dealt with fairly or not. And empathy is just hard to explain. But the feeling is easy. Kids innately understand a lot of these feelings, but learning the words attached to them can be a little more complex. That was why I decided to tell stories around the topic rather than clinically trying to teach them these ideas in a vacuum.
You created this as a book but have experience in television, primarily. Is this something you can see branching to other media?
Yes indeed! It's funny how these things develop though. As much as I wrote the book to help other families I also wrote the book as a sort of challenge or "escape" from the world of writing for kid's TV. Authoring a book is a relatively singular experience. You write it alone, then work with an editor, who is usually just one person, and that's that. With TV there is layer upon layer upon layer of "input" for lack of a more crusty expression.
But once I had written the book and saw all the wonderful illustrations Riley (R.A.Holt) did, I said, "Oh dear... this HAS to become an animated series..." So, like Al Pacino said so famously in The Godfather, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in..." So we made a deal with a major broadcaster (who I am forbidden to name) to develop the book into an animated series called ELLIOTT & LUCY. It's really fun. It has a strong ethical message but touches on life values and the environment too. All great messages for preschoolers. Of course it's full of fun and humor too! We are anxiously awaiting the "green light" to put it into production.
What has been the most common reaction you've received to this book?
Overwhelmingly positive. I'm thrilled. I get notes all the time from parents who have started using the book with their kids to great success. I'm also really touched to hear that therapists and schools are using it as part of their curriculum!
Do you think that read-aloud stories like this or once-a-week discussions can counteract all the negativity and wrong messages seen on TV and elsewhere in society on a daily basis?
Oh, I sure hope so. But that is just a start. The bigger message is time spent. Spend time with your kids. Heck I don't even care if it’s doing something frivolous like playing video games together! But time spent means you will have some kind of relationship with them and that as the foundation to counteract the negative stuff.
Beyond sharing these stories with our children, what do you feel the most powerful ways are to reinforce ethics in our children?
Set a good example. Do as I say and do as I do. Simple.
I am loving this book. I was debating giving it to Mister Man's speech therapy group (they work on pragmatic language and friendship skills, perfect for this book), but after reading through it and sharing it with the wee ones, it's staying right here. You can buy your own copy of the book, or one lucky reader will have the opportunity to win a copy of this book!
So what do you have to do?
First of all, let me stress that you must follow all the rules. If you do not follow the rules, your entry will not count!
This contest is open until Friday October 15 at 7pm CST. I must have a valid way to reach you, so leave me your email address in your comment or be sure your profile has your email address visible. No duplicate comments will count. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and older. Winners will be selected via random.org and must respond within 48 hours of being notified by me or I will select a new winner.
Mandatory Entry: How do you help promote ethical behavior in yourself and others?
Bonus Entries (leave a comment for each entry - if you put it all in one comment, I'll count it as one entry):
1) Earn one additional entry for following me on Twitter and tweeting this contest (leave a link to your tweet as your comment).
2) Earn one additional entry by following this review blog publicly via Google Friend Connect.
3) Earn one additional entry by following my “regular” blog Honest & Truly! publicly via Google Friend Connect.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "E is for Ethics" for review purposes. I did not receive any compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.