Josie, who is in the fifth grade, spends the afternoon with her neighbor Debbie, who is a year older. Other girls join them. That evening, Josie shows her mom a round red mark on her arm and confesses that she let the older girl touch her arm with a hot spoon as a secret initiation into a club they were making.
Her mother is upset. “What were you thinking?!” she exclaims as she puts salve on the burn. Later she complains to her husband, “I wish that girl would use her head. Will she ever learn common sense?”
What is common sense?
Common sense is a kind of intuitive judgment derived from experience, both our own school of hard knocks and the distilled experience that gets handed down as folk wisdom. Together, these create what we think of as “good instincts.” The concept of common sense suggests that people have a body of shared, unwritten knowledge that allow us to function successfully even in the absence of formal advisers or schooling. Education can provide another treasure trove of information that lets us understand the limitations of our common sense instincts.
When we access our common sense, we find a trove of valuable practical information that helps guide our choices and actions. Common sense answers aren’t always right answers, but they are a great starting point especially when peers are egging each other on.
Quotes to contemplate discuss and share.
If common sense were a reliable guide, we wouldn’t need science.
Bringing it home to your kids
- Remember, childhood is about acquiring common sense—mostly by exercising bad judgment in situations where the consequences are minor compared to what they will be in adulthood. Falling down is part of learning to walk.
- Take time when you and your child are calm and rested to process missteps. Pragmatic, sympathetic questions often are more useful than scolding, since self assessment is the key to growth: What do you wish you had done? How do you hope you might handle that next time?
- When your child will be with peers who tend to push the limits, help them to anticipate sticky situations they might get into and talk through some options in advance.
- Share stories of binds you’ve gotten yourself into and out of. One of the great things about our capacity for imagination is that we don’t have to fall into every pit ourselves.
- Tape Portia Nelson’s “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” to the inside of a cupboard door, or someplace where you’ll be able to read it when your child seems to need the same lesson over and over.