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Lessons in Nurturing Empathy and Caring in your child

Studies indicate that parents of youth are more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they care for others.

So how does empathy and social awareness figure in parental expectations? The result is indeed telling: interviewees almost three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Here’s what we do need to do as parents whether we have a 2 year old or a teenager

Make ‘caring’ for others a priority

Children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for a friend who is being bullied. Thus, before your kid quit the sports team, band, or a friendship, ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend Instead of saying to your child: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.” Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.

Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport. Practice is the only way! At the same time, don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness. Acts such as clearing the dinner table is a routine every child should be trained in! Only reward uncommon acts of kindness. Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.

Expand your child’s circle of concern for others and the environment

Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country. Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, including the bus driver or a waitress. Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased. Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

Be a strong moral role model and mentor

Children learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”

Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws so they get to learn that it’s ok to be wrong and mistakes need to be admitted and not covered up. Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child. Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

Keystone habits and kids

Raising kids who are intellectually smart and compassionate is a tough task. Child psychol0gists have for years claimed that regular habits and rituals help kids grow smart and kind and they call these keystone habits. These are habits that trigger a “chain reaction” in our life and help us succeed and outperform our peers.

Let’s look at some of these regular to dos we need to internalize as daily processes for the child (these incidentally also address the “sensitivity to order” popularized by Maria Montessori)

Most of us plan daily goals which we seldom achieve. Yet, something as simple as making our bed as a daily morning ritual can bring about a huge change. Likewise, a child taught to make his/her own bed in the morning will get a sense of achievement and confidence that follows task closure. Adding on more rituals (for instance laying the dinner table or cleaning the wardrobe, stacking books, watering the plants etc.) Will only add to the sense of accomplishment in children. Thus even if at some point they fail, or have a rough day, they’ll at least return to a bed that’s already made or a clean tidy room!

Parents of course need to and must regularize the habit of ‘reading to their young ones’

Reading daily to your kids is immensely impactful:

  • They hear a huge variety of words which increases their vocabulary and they are able to communicate better and smartly
  • More reading to your child increases their neuron and connectivity, and grows their intellectual expanse
  • Reading brings focus and adds to increasing concentration levels in the child.
  • Stories are a good medium to send key messages around aggression, anger management and patience
  • Finally reading together builds a strong bond. Children remember these moments vividly as the best time spent with their parents,
  • Make that 1 hour in the evening “A gadget less hour “and read to your child!!!