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By Youth First Staff, July 11, 2018 –

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.

By Aisha Givens, LSW – March 6, 2018 –

Have you ever noticed that if someone in your general vicinity yawns it kicks off a series of yawns from all those in the immediate area?

Scientific studies have shown that yawning is a form of empathy. Depending upon your age and how close your relationship is, you may yawn because you empathize with them being tired; you may also smile when you see a friend’s happy smile or cry if you observe a loved one crying.

Empathy can be a biological function, but more than often it is a learned behavior.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another person.

Is it important to teach empathy to our children? The answer is yes. Research shows that empathetic children grow up to become more successful adults when compared to children who lack empathetic skills. Empathy helps us to influence and inspire others as well as better manage personal relationships and social networks.

But how do we impart empathetic skills to our children?  It may be easier than you think.

Here are three basic skills you can teach your child this week that would build their capacity towards empathy:

  1. Reduce or eliminate negative conversations about family, friends or strangers. Children will model your behavior and speak negatively or gossip about others if they hear you doing so. Instead, encourage your child to discuss or wonder about the feelings of people who are vulnerable or whom you may have spoken negatively about in the past.
  2. Provide an opportunity for your child to practice empathy. Hold a family meeting and provide your child with an opportunity to listen to others’ viewpoints while allowing the child to be heard and acknowledged in a non-judgmental and genuine environment.
  3. Educate your child about body language. If you notice them with their arms crossed, head down, a smile on their face, slumped shoulders or any other body language or posture, talk about it. i.e. “I’ve noticed you have your head down with your arms crossed. What’s going on?” or “Wow, your eyes are wide open with a huge grin on your face. What’s making you smile today?”

These are few very simple tips for helping your child or teen become more empathetic to others. Set your child up for success. Understanding the emotions and perspectives of others is foundational for building relationships and becoming a well-rounded and complete individual.