In today’s world of tabloids, scandals, and shocking news, discretion is trait we seldom hear about. Discretion comes from the Latin word discretio which means “a separating.” Applying discretion calls for separating out the words, actions, and attitudes that would result in undesirable consequences. It is actually a bundle of character traits; for this reason, discretion can be considered an advanced character trait.
Exercising discretion means calling upon many other character traits like self-control to avoid saying the first thing that pops into our heads, creativity in considering alternatives, and responsibility in making the right choice for everyone involved. Respect for ourselves and others is at the core of all these elements. While encouraging discretion, you may want to take some time to review the other traits that contribute to this complex character trait.
A red fox is a good example of discretion. Foxes can cover 20 feet in a single stride. Although faster than hounds, which are often used to hunt them, foxes tire easily and must rely on cunning rather than stamina to outwit their pursuers. The red fox provides many analogies useful in illustrating discretion. Foxes choose their steps carefully, just as a person of discretion chooses his or her words wisely. They use their feet to flee from danger, just as a person of discretion walks away from invitations to do wrong. Foxes keep their fur neat and tidy, just as a person of discretion practices manners. Foxes use their ears to listen to warnings just as those with discretion listen to criticism.
I Will Statements
- I will choose my words carefully.
- I will practice good manners.
- I will listen to criticism.
- I will not make fun of others.
- I will turn down any invitation to do wrong.
If one of the “I will” statements stands out more for your family than the others, focus on that and make it a goal for everyone to work on together. Discuss how each of the “I will” statements underscores having respect for self and others. Have a daily check-in (at dinner, perhaps) that gives each family member a chance to share examples of how they put the “I will” into action.
Learning not to interrupt while others are talking is a challenging task for many children. It calls for them to exercise patience, self-control, and discretion. When encouraging children to wait their turn to talk, remember that children often mimic the behavior they observe around them. To make sure you aren’t interrupting others and listen carefully to what the other person is saying—good listeners rarely interrupt.
Some experts recommend thanking a child in advance for not interrupting. For instance, if you are about to make a phone call, you might say, “Thank you for playing quietly while I’m on the phone.”
Also, analyze whether your reaction to interruptions is effective or if you are actually unconsciously encouraging your child to interrupt by responding to them. Sometimes admitting that we need to change our own behavior is the hardest part of effective parenting.
Competition can spark interest in things that children might otherwise find boring. If you’d like to hear them say “please” and “thank you” more often, consider keeping track of how many times those words are said and at the end of the day offer a politeness prize. The reward doesn’t have to cost anything—picking the evening’s dinner entrée can be quite a privilege. If you approach the task with fun and excitement, your children will creatively find opportunities.
The familiar tale of the boy who cried wolf reminds us that discretion is always the best choice. To amuse himself, the young shepherd sounds the alarm that a wolf is threatening the flock of sheep. Twice the villagers rush to his aid, only to find that the boy had fibbed. When an actual wolf appears, the people ignore his pleas and the sheep are scattered. We’re told the moral of this story is that nobody believes a liar, even when he is telling the truth.
Books to Consider
- Armadillo Tattletale by Helen Kettman explores the plight of an armadillo who occupies himself by eavesdropping and spreading rumors. This children’s book humorously illustrates the consequences of failing to exercise discretion in both actions and words.
- 365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette by Sheryl Eberly offers a one-a-day approach to manners that make politeness a priority.
Nearly every popular children’s character has a book on manners. From Dora and Clifford to Sponge Bob and the Bernstein Bears, choose the one your child likes best and use that as a starting point to talk about exercising discretion.