By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 22, 2016 –
Turning on the news or logging into social media each day, you are sure to be bombarded with messages of fear, anger and intolerance.
The constant turmoil in our country and our world makes the thought of raising children scary. Will they be safe? Will they make good friends? Will they get bullied? What if they are the bully?
It seems more important than ever to raise kids who can understand and be kind to other people. You do not have to go out of your way to do so.
Teaching empathy should be part of everyday life: how you respond to your child’s questions, how you solve conflict with siblings, how you strengthen his or her capacity to think about other people. You have influence in fostering your child’s ability to empathize.
Here are some easy ways to build empathy into each day:
- Develop “feelings” language. A child cannot be expected to consider the emotions of others if they do not first understand their own. This goes beyond the basic happy/sad/mad. Try pointing out different emotions in books, TV shows and those around you. Use a variety of words to strengthen their “feelings” vocabulary such as frustrated, hurt, hopeful or excited.
- Demonstrate empathy in your own behavior. Empathizing with your child can be done in many ways, including tuning in to their physical and emotional needs, understanding and respecting their individual personalities and taking a genuine interest in their lives. Children also learn empathy by watching our interactions with others. They’ll notice if we are friendly to the server at a restaurant or rude to the cashier at the grocery.
- Be consistent. If you ask your child to use kind language when speaking to others, make sure you are modeling that language in your own conversations. If you’ve been short-tempered with your child or spoken harshly to your spouse, apologize. All parents make mistakes. It’s how you address your mistake afterward that makes a difference.
- Recognize kindness. When your child shares a toy with someone or gives the dog a hug, be sure to acknowledge the actions as kind. Over time, your child will understand that being a helpful friend, sibling, neighbor and human being is something you value.
- Praise daily, but don’t overdo it. Praising your child’s efforts is important for building confidence and positive self-esteem. However, you do not want your child to demand praise for small, expected tasks. Find a balance that works in your home. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with sibling, and with neighbors, and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
- Promote emotional literacy. Many schools are working to incorporate social/emotional learning programs. Talk with your child’s Youth First social worker, teacher or counselor to determine what is available at their school.
- Volunteer. Teaching your child the gift of giving back is an invaluable lesson. Children learn to think about the experience of those around them and can appreciate the positive aspects of their own life. There are many ways to volunteer in the community that are also age-appropriate.
A social media meme is making the rounds that states, “We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.” There is a lot of power in this statement. In order to create a kinder world, we need to teach our children the importance of being kind and thinking about the feelings of others.