Teaching What Level A Behavior Looks Like to Young Children

Many teachers and parents have some reluctance to using terms like “anarchy” and “democracy” to describe the levels of the Hierarchy of Social Development, especially with young children. At first, I shared that reluctance.

These terms seem so advanced, especially for youngsters in kindergarten and preschool. But the only reason they seem advanced is because we ourselves were so much older when we first came across these words.

It may be helpful to remember that young children are constantly coming across new words and abstract concepts. Children absorb new words quite readily. They have no context for deciding whether any particular word is more “advanced” or “difficult” than any other. For them, it’s just a new word. After all, they probably already know many abstract concepts like “empty” and “blue” and “nothing.”

Remember that young people’s brains are like sponges. They can absorb anything. The trick is to make meaning of what is absorbed to enhance learning and memory.

For example, break “an/archy” up by teaching that the prefix “an” means “not,” “without,” or “lacking”—in this case, “without rule.” Teach that “mono” means “one.” “Olig” means “a few.” Therefore, monarchy (like a king) is rule by one person. Oligarchy means rule by a few people. Anarchy means that there is no leader, so people do anything they want, often without any regard for others.

Here is an easy exercise to teach the concept of anarchy to the young. Tell them that for the next two minutes they can do anything they want, but as soon as you say, “FREEZE,” they must stop immediately what they are doing. Before beginning, ask them if they would agree to this. Have them nod their heads up and down (in the usual affirmative manner) before starting. Be sure every head is nodding.

Then say, “Go!” The youngsters will do all kinds of things, including teasing, bullying, punching, and generally being wild. After a full two minutes, command: “FREEZE!” Then have the students congregate to describe the activity and how they behaved.

Conclude the lesson by announcing, “That was anarchy.”