Are kids born to have compassion or is it a quality that is instilled in them by their parents and upbringing?
A recent study by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project places all of the emphasis on the latter. The study is a culmination of Harvard’s research over the past few decades covering the development of young children and offers seven specific and targeted strategies for parents to get their kids on the path to being empathetic and benevolent.
Tip 1: Work to develop caring, loving relationships with your kids
It is important for kids to have connected, caring, and loving relationships with the people in their lives. Intimate connections are an essential part of being a human being. These bonds are first forged in the home between parents or caretakers and their children. One of the main building blocks in establishing a loving relationship is to give your children perpetual attention and affection. It’s also crucial to listen with interest and enthusiasm, making sure to maintain eye-contact throughout.
Tip 2: Be a strong moral role model and mentor
What kids see and believe is what they become. One of the best tools parents have to mold their child’s character is to lead by example. It’s important to regularly demonstrate understanding, compassion, and kindness. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake and explain that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. Stay positive by teaching children to look at the upsides of challenges and not to give up.
Tip 3: Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations
Although parents claim that they want their children to grow up to be caring, the children themselves are not hearing this message. Children inherently are selfish. Therefore it is up the parents to stress and reiterate the importance of empathy. Parents and caretakers can work towards this by having their children honor their commitments. Even if a problem or dilemma arises, children should be encouraged to work towards a resolution. Equally important is teaching your children to stand up for important principles of fairness and justice. Parents and caretakers alike must insist that their children are respectful, even if being respective makes them unhappy.
Tip 4: Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
Just like many other learned traits of a person’s character, selflessness is achieved through practice and repetition. Adults can promote gratitude directly in children by facilitating opportunities to exercise this attribute. Some ways to do this include providing age appropriate situations to help those less fortunate. Another very practical method would be to have children write simple thank-you notes to grandparents, siblings, teachers, etc.
Tip 5: Expand your child’s circle of concern
It is important for parents to ensure that their children show care and concern for those outside of their immediate community. Parents should look to involve their children in any aspect of helping or assisting people they are not close with or do not know. Additionally, children should be encouraged to participate in activities outside of their community. This will give them the chance to form new relationships and compassion for people they otherwise might not even know. Parents also can read stories to their children about the many diverse cultures and customs of people across the world.
Tip 6: Promote children’s ability to be ethical thinkers and positive change-makers in their communities
Children have the power to be creative and engaged citizens who can strengthen the wellbeing of a whole society. By promoting ethical thinking, parents can teach moral awareness by explaining the virtue in a specific situation. Parents can start small by simply showing their child how to make a positive change within his/her own family. Helping to teach children about their conscience is a crucial step in instructing them to harness their inner authority over their individual actions.
Tip 7: Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively
Children often have trouble dealing with difficult or stressful situations. In order to control their emotions and maintain a calm demeanor they need to learn how to control and handle themselves. The most important thing you can do to help your child learn self-control is to regulate your own emotions so you can stay calm and compassionate with your child. Teach your child to take “3 breaths” after an emotionally charged situation to help foster emotional regulation and mindfulness. Every time a parent or caregiver sets a limit that the child accepts, that child is exhibiting self control in its nascency. Demonstrating self reflection is a way to learn from negative outcomes or inappropriate behaviors. It creates a “pause” in what otherwise may be a cycle of unsuitable learned behaviors.