Try these tips to raise a child who cares for those around.
WORDS SUE-ANN BAUMGÄRTEL
There are many ways to teach your child about kindness and compassion. And if these traits and mindsets are not taught in the classroom, set up your own school at home. Children have a natural aptitude for compassion and empathy, which can be hard to balance with a child’s sense of self-importance and “me”. Just like a teacher should endeavour to bring out the best in a student, we have to bring out the best in our children.
Be the Best Yourself
Provide your child with a strong moral role model and mentor by being the best person you can be. Think about what you are trying to encourage your child to emulate – kindness, empathy, and compassion, all the things that make us human. Instead of getting impatient with a waitress because your child is grouchy and hungry, think twice about what comes out from your own mouth. However, it is no use just saying, “Maybe she’s just having a bad day,” – you have to actively empathise with her, in order to be a genuine example to your child. Talk about the situation with your child and try to encourage them to put their empathy glasses on – what is it like for the other person? Praise your child when they have demonstrated an act of kindness, but don’t overdo it – setting the table and helping tidy the dinner table is not an act of kindness, but helping an annoying younger sister sort out her school bag is.
Parents make mistakes. Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons, but they are nonetheless mistakes.
Admitting our own faults, whether we were short-tempered with our partner for forgetting something, or not thanking a cab driver, we have to show our children that mistakes are there to learn from.
Instead of getting cross with a young child for not getting ready for bed promptly, take a deep breath, and tell them, “Mummy is also really tired. I had a really difficult day at work. Please try and listen, and help mummy by getting ready quickly. I’d really appreciate that.” It is important for children to also see their parents as a person with limits like anyone else and gives them a chance to make an informed decision independently – I can carry on doing what I want, or I can help mummy because she is tired and I love her.
When children are older, the stakes are higher. Older children develop into teenagers, with many unpredictable influences creating scope for wrong decisions and ill-judged choices. Be clear that your family life is based on love, compassion, respect, and honesty. This is a moral compass. Children will bully younger siblings, teenagers will tell small lies, and parents will be taken for granted. Be open in your disappointment and sadness if you see any behaviour that drifts from this moral compass, but also apply it to yourself – “I love you very much, but your behaviour towards your little brother was mean. I know you are a good person, and not mean. Is there something troubling you at the moment?” Setting high ethical standards for yourself is vital in order to demonstrate to your children the importance of kindness and compassion.
Feeling and Emotions
There are stories all around us. From reports in the newspaper to the latest Disney film. Stories are driven by emotions and feelings. Reading together with your children, and talking about the story, will expand your child’s emotional vocabulary – “How do you think it feels like for Cinderella to be treated so badly?” Likewise, many family films are modern fables with the hero or heroine having to endure a journey of many choices, in order to ultimately do the right thing. Talk about the situations and the choices of a character. Encourage your child to get in touch with their feelings in order for them to observe situations with an informed mind and an open heart.
When your child is older, expand their circle of concern. Beyond literary and film characters, talk about real situations.
Involve your children in current events, and how different societies and politics can affect people. Highlight the futility of war and celebrate the differences in people, whether it is skin colour, cultural background, or choice of partner and lifestyle. Turn this circle of concern into a tangible experience by volunteering. Rather than just talking about it, do it. Show how small acts of kindness can make a big difference.
Nobody is perfect. But in this increasingly troubled world, with each smartphone-centric person reflecting the isolationist tendencies of nations, there can be a sense of detachment – “it’s not my problem after all”. Kindness and human decency matter now, more than ever.