For instant access to local, national and world news all you have to do is turn on the television, browse the internet or pick up your cell phone. Technology provides us with constant updates and images from natural disasters, political uprisings, and violent crimes.
Has our constant exposure to violence, suffering, and cruelty desensitized us? How do we raise children who care and have compassion for others when the “real world” can seem so harsh and uncaring?
Harvard educator Richard Weissbourd writes about parents who believe happiness and self-esteem are the foundation for morality. In other words, “feeling good” will lead to “doing good.” He argues that high self-esteem alone does not lead to caring for others, however.
Weissbourd offers some tips for shifting your parenting focus from self-esteem and happiness toward caring and responsibility:
• Tell your children the most important thing is being kind and helpful to others.
• Help your child appreciate others by not allowing them to treat restaurant servers, store clerks, or babysitters as invisible.
• Don’t allow your child to quit a team or club without thinking about how it will impact the entire group.
• Don’t let your child simply “write off” friends he or she finds annoying or fail to return phone calls from friends.
• Expect your child to help around the house and offer help to neighbors.
• Support your child’s growth and maturity, including the ability to manage feelings and balance the needs of others.
• Praise children for accomplishments, but avoid constant praise. When parents offer praise too often children may feel constantly judged.
• Avoid making achievement the goal of life. Too much pressure to achieve can cause kids to see others as competitors or threats.
• Don’t try to be your child’s friend. Being close to your child is good, but it is important that they see you as an authority and role model.
Children can show signs of empathy and concern for others from an early age. Reinforcing this behavior is one of the most important things parents can do. Parents must also take action when they see their child being hurtful or cruel.
The American Psychological Association suggests keeping your focus on the act and not the child personally. For example, say, “What you did was not very nice” rather than “You are not very nice.” Parents should explain why they disapprove and connect their actions to how the other person feels.
It is also essential that children understand how deeply their parents feel about their behavior towards others. The issue will mean more to them if they know it is important to their parents. Keep it short and to the point. Your goal is to teach them, not make them feel guilty.
The example modeled by nurturing parents and other adults is often the biggest influence on the behavior of children. When children feel they have a secure base at home they are more likely to reach out and help others.
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