Kindness matters: 5 Steps for raising empathetic children

What kind of people do you like to be around? Are you interested in hanging out with friends who got straight A’s in school, graduated number one in their class or qualified for the NCAA championship in their sport? Those achievements are exciting and rewarding for the individual who accomplishes them, but we don’t use those criteria when we select our friends. What matters to many people is being around those who are helpful and kind. Here are some steps for raising kids who focus on kindness. And this training will ultimately benefit you when your children treat you with respect and consideration, instead of viewing you as an ATM.

ICC kindness mattersUntil toddlerhood, most children focus on, “What’s in it for me?” And without guidance, some of us never get beyond that. After age two, children need to learn to how to balance what they want with concern for others. It’s up to the adults in their lives to encourage thinking of others. Parents can emphasize,“The most important thing is that you’re kind,” rather than making achievement the priority.

Get in the habit of expressing gratitude. Practice caring for others. This is an area where what goes around, comes around. If you show concern for others, it is more likely to generate a similar response from them. When I visit with my granddaughters, part of their bedtime routine is describing three things that happened during the day that made them happy. “Today, I am thankful for…” Even on a day where you’ve locked your keys in the car or dropped your phone in the toilet, find something that you are grateful for.

Expand your circle of concern. We focus on those who are closest to us, but many people we encounter could use a friendly word. As Ian MacLaren said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” Look for opportunities to practice kindness, especially with those who are not in a position to pay it back.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be a role model for your children. Have dinner table discussions about ethical issues and evaluate different ways to resolve conflicts. Are you involved with community service? Depending on the ages of your children, perhaps you can find a project to volunteer on together. Many high schools now require hours of service learning before graduation. A few months ago, I attended the West Point Leadership and Ethics conference. These are programs that engage middle and high school students and educators in examining ethical dilemmas and brainstorming solutions.

Feelings are neither right nor wrong, but some ways of dealing with them can be destructive. Help children develop self control by learning to identify, express and cope with their feelings in productive ways.

For more information on this topic, visit Making Caring Common (MCC)  http://sites.gse.harvard.edu/making-caring-common Together we can raise children who are caring, respectful, and responsible toward others and their communities.heavy load

© Joan S Grey, 8 June  2015

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