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Posts Tagged ‘Parents’

Portrait of schoolgirl passing red apple to classmate during lesson

Ways to help your children develop empathy, kindness and a sense of responsibility toward others.

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By Jane Meredith Adams

While rummaging through an old box, my daughter, Claire, came across the stuffed bear I’d had when I was her age, a deeply loved creature named Teddy. “How come Teddy has no fur?” she asked. “Why doesn’t she have eyes?” I explained that my cousin’s dog had chewed up Teddy when I was a kid. She was aghast.

Gravely, she kissed Teddy’s empty eye sockets. Somberly, she reported to her twin brother, Drew, what had happened. “We’ve got to fix her,” she said.

As it turns out, children have an inborn capacity for compassion. Small in stature themselves, they naturally identify with stuffed animals, other kids, pets, and underdogs. The tricky part is that their empathy must compete with other developmental forces, including limited impulse control—which makes them pull the cat’s tail—and their belief that their needs absolutely must come first—which makes it hard for them to let their cousin push the cool fire truck.

But with so much hatred and turmoil in the world today, it seems more important than ever to raise kids who can understand and be kind to other people. Teaching this doesn’t mean lectures or visits to soup kitchens. It’s part of day-to-day life: how you answer your child’s questions, how you solve conflict at the park, how you nudge his or her growing capacity to understand and think about other people. Temperament of course plays a role—some kids are naturally more tuned in to other people’s feelings and difficulties, while others are a bit oblivious. Either way, you have influence in fostering your child’s ability to empathize. Age by age, here’s how to do so in small, daily doses:

Promote sweetness

Teaching your child ways to treat things with care helps him develop the understanding that actions have consequences.

Show how to be gentle. Your child wants to be friendly but ends up grabbing the baby roughly? Demonstrate another way. “I say, ‘We use our hands to give love,'” says Kimberly Mazone of Dresden, Maine, mother of 4-year-old Sienna and 3-month-old Lucca. “‘You’re being a little bit rough. Let’s be gentle. Let’s show our love with our hands.'” You can actually take his hand and show him physically what a gentle touch is.

Speak softly. Your kindness will be a role model for how to treat others. When your child’s in pain, be warm and caring. “It’s all about the tone in your voice,” says Emily Mihalchik, a mom of 2-year-old Sam and director of the Johnnie Appleseed Preschool, in Lawrence, Kansas. If a child’s friend is crying, “I say, ‘Maybe a hug would be nice,'” says Mihalchik. Young toddlers don’t have a very consistent long-term memory, so you’ll have to repeat your lessons more times than you thought possible.

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Reject rudeness. “I see fifteen-month-olds who do things like spit into their parents’ faces, and the parents laugh,” says Susan Jensen, a mom of two and director of Children’s Nook preschool, in North Charleston, South Carolina. This will not do. Compassion requires that your child respect others, including you. Gently but firmly, say “No, you may not spit!” In the same loving but no-nonsense manner, remove his little feet from the table and unlock his fist from your hair.

Say “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been short-tempered with your child, apologize to him. All parents make mistakes. It’s how you address them afterward that makes the difference. He’ll learn that everyone, even Mom, admits it when she’s wrong.

Enforce rules

Consistent limits help your toddler see that her behavior (and misbehavior!) affects others.

Provide structure. It might seem that if you want to raise a compassionate, caring child, you just have to be a compassionate, caring parent. But that’s not enough. Even the most nurturing, loving parenting requires firm limits on behavior, or you’ll get very self-centered children, says Janice Cohn, Ph.D., author of Raising Compassionate, Courageous Children in a Violent World. Make unacceptable behavior, like hitting, always unacceptable—even if it’s her birthday. If something is wrong it has to be wrong all the time.

Expect her to help. When their neighbors are away, Karen Semple’s four kids in Montana City, Montana, take care of the left-behind cats, dogs, and horses. Everyone’s included in helping, and when the youngest was 2, she scooped cat food out of a bag. Rain, snow, and cold weather don’t stop them. For Semple, it’s all about teaching the Golden Rule. “You need to love your neighbor as yourself, even if you don’t particularly feel like it,” she says.

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Use manners to connect. With the exciting (and noisy!) arrival of the garbage truck, talk about how we’re all connected: The farmer grows the food, we throw out the peels or waste, and the trash collector picks it up. If your child’s out watching the trash collector, she can say “thank you.” Good manners, which keep us coexisting harmoniously, are one way to show compassion. As much as you can with a squirmy toddler, make good manners part of her daily routine.

“Habits like this can help form character,” says the Reverend Dr. Julia Gatta, an Episcopal priest and associate professor of pastoral theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. “There’s another person at the other end of the relationship who has feelings and deserves respect.”

Guide friendship

Stay tuned in during playtime so you can help your child figure out how to be a friend.

Outlaw name-calling. Compassion starts with what’s acceptable and what’s not. “A little guy called someone a ‘poo-poo head,'” says Jensen. “Immediately, he had to go to time-out or come up to see me. I told him, ‘I know you know that word is unacceptable.'” Explain to her—often—that being kind to others is the rule. You can tell her when she gets into a tiff, “You don’t have to like that person, but everyone has to be nice.”

Give consequences. If the be-nice rule is broken, stick with simple, concrete consequences such as a brief time-out or losing a special toy for a day. A 3-year-old’s abstract thinking is weak, so she’s too young to understand that being nice is morally the right thing to do; your efforts, therefore, should be directed at helping her resist impulses so she won’t get in trouble.

Label kindness. When you catch your child offering a shovel to a friend in the sandbox, label her actions by saying “What a good friend you are,” or “You’re very thoughtful.” Over time, she’ll understand that being a helpful friend, sister, neighbor, and human being is something you value.

Be considerate yourself. While it’s tempting to hand out birthday-party invitations at the park instead of going to the trouble of mailing them, explain to your child that kids who see other children getting invitations but don’t receive one themselves may feel hurt. And all through the year, get her in the habit of sending cards to friends and relatives who could use a kind word: thank-you notes, sympathy cards, get-well wishes. For a child not yet up to writing a message, even a drawing is great.

Portrait of schoolgirl passing red apple to classmate during lesson

Don’t trash talk. Kids, as we know, are always listening. How we talk on a daily basis about our own siblings, parents, and relatives tells them a lot. If children hear us saying something really negative about Grandma, they learn that it’s okay to talk that way, says Suzanne Coyle, Ph.D., a mom and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. So keep meanness in check: “Show them you have a spirit of kindness and generosity.”

Encourage helping

With their increasing awareness and independence, preschoolers are ready to participate, if you show them how.

Give pennies. Kids want to feel they can make a difference, so bring charity down to their level. “Every week the children bring in pennies and count them,” says Nancy Manewith, director of the Board of Jewish Education Early Childhood Centers of Metropolitan Chicago. “It’s just part of our pre-math program.” Then the pennies go to charity or to buy mittens and scarves for poor children, which opens the door to conversations about war and poverty.

When talking to your own child about such things, be honest, but don’t feel you have to include every scary detail. Keep explanations simple, and ask simple questions, like “How can we help them?” If his al-lowance is five dimes, ask him how many dimes he’d like to set aside to give to a food bank or drop in a collection jar. Giving him the choice will make him more excited about the idea.

Assign chores. The habit of helping others starts with chores at home. Children love to feel capable, so assign a manageable task like setting the table or feeding the cat. Make a schedule and put it on the fridge so your child can keep track of what he needs to do. When her kids ask why they have to do chores, Anna Notation-Rhoades of Sewanee, Tennessee, a mom of five, tells them “we’re all part of the family, so by helping the family we’re helping ourselves.”

Use stories. Reading books together can be a natural way to help your child start to understand that children aren’t all the same. Books like Faith the Cow, by Susan Bame Hoover, about how the gift of a cow can change the life of a poor family, or Houses and Homes, by Ann Morris, which has photos of houses around the world, can show that kids in other countries want the same things: to feel safe, to be liked, to learn things, to have fun, and to be with their families.

Point out heroes. The siren of a fire truck, not to mention a newspaper photograph of a bomb attack, can make a 4-year-old worry. Shield him from disturbing images as much as possible, but when he hears or sees something frightening, focus the conversation on the firefighters, rescue workers, doctors, or volunteers who are there to help us.

Build on their smarts

Your child’s made cognitive and emotional leaps—help him understand others’ feelings.

Explore feelings. With an increasing vocabulary, a 6-year-old is able to communicate more about emotions. Talking about book characters is a good way to help. “We’d read Snow White and I’d ask, ‘Why do you think the witch was jealous of Snow White?'” says Rev. Gatta, who’s also a mom of a 12-year-old. “Later, maybe in the car, we’d talk about characters’ motives and feelings.”

Monitor media. If the characters on television are hitting each other or calling each other names, shut off the TV or, at least, talk about what’s going on. Children don’t just watch TV, they internalize it, and they don’t get irony, so be careful of what they’re memorizing.

Expect more. When it comes to your child’s responsibility to be caring and compassionate, set your standards high. Don’t let teasing or bullying go unaddressed. At 7 and 8, kids are starting to be able to see the world from another person’s perspective. In a complicated and troubled world, it’s easy to feel that nothing we do will make a difference. This can lead to compassion burnout—for us and for our kids. The key is to start small.

As for my battered Teddy, it was a very small problem in search of a solution. So we repaired her. Claire chose blue felt for her eyes and pink for her nose. She cut out the shapes, which made them interesting to behold. Teddy’s not her old furry self, but she’s much improved. Now, years later, every time Claire hugs my old bear, she knows she made a difference.

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Ease up on the overparenting and teach your children these basic skills so they’ll be prepared for life outside the nest.

By Ellen Sturm Niz

 

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As parents, we love our kids so much we want to protect them, help them, and cultivate them into perfect, happy humans. Unfortunately, this overparenting has the opposite effect, leaving our kids unready for the world and life as adults.

“We parents, we’re doing too much,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” “We have the very best of intentions, but when we over-help, we deprive them of the chance to learn these really important things that it turns out they need to learn to be prepared to be out in the world of work, to get an apartment, to make their way through an unfamiliar town, to interact with adults who aren’t motivated by love.”

Now the mom of two high schoolers, Lythcott-Haims’ a-ha moment came in 2009 after telling parents at Stanford’s freshman orientation to let their kids go and then coming home for dinner and cutting her then 10-year-old son’s meat.

“That’s when I got the connection,” she says. “When do you stop cutting their meat? When do you stop looking both ways for them as they cross the street? These are all things that we’re doing to be helpful, protective and so on, but if you’ve sheltered your 18-year-old all the way up to 18 by doing all of those things, then they end up bewildered out in the world. I realized this was why the Stanford freshman I was working with, however accomplished in the G.P.A. and childhood resume sense, were reliant upon mom or dad to kind of do the ‘work’ of life.”

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his wife Janna, and children Charlie, sitting next to Janna, Sam, and Liza look over the menu before ordering breakfast at Josie's restaurant, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Are you ready to stop helicopter parenting and prepare your kid for life as a young adult? Lythcott-Haims shares 12 basic life skills every kid should know by high school:

  1. Make a meal

“By the time your kid is in high school, they really ought to be able to do everything related to their own care, if they had to,” Lythcott-Haims says. “I’m not saying stop making dinner for your kids, but I am saying you ought to have confidence that they could make a breakfast for themselves, that they could make a lunch.”

While most days you are going to be preparing their meals, you want them to be able to feed themselves if necessary. “When something happens, grandma gets sick and one parent’s got to rush across town to look after her and the other parent’s off at work, you want to know your freshman in high school has what it takes to pack their own lunch, make his own dinner, you know? The more they age, the more they should feel that, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this.’ There’s a competence, and there’s a confidence that comes when we build competence.”

  1. Wake themselves up on time

“By the time your kid is entering high school, you ought to have confidence they can wake themselves up and get themselves washed and dressed in clothing that’s clean,” Lythcott-Haims says. “I underscore this because too many of us are letting kids off. We’re their alarm clock and then what happens? They’re late for breakfast; they’re late to school; and we drive them. All that teaches them is, ‘I’ll always be there to wake you up and drive you,’ which is not true.”

Lythcott-Haims recently heard from a colleague at a major university that a parent had installed a webcam in the dorm room of a freshman to wake the kid up. “That’s a parenting fail,” she says. “We’ve gotten ourselves worked up into a frothy frenzy about grades and scores in high school, and further into college, and we sort of treat our kids’ childhood as if every day, every quiz, every afternoon is a make or break moment for their future,” she continues. “We feel the stakes are high, and therefore we must help, but the stakes are low in childhood compared to what they will be in college, and what they’ll really be in the world beyond.”

  1. Do laundryimage2

When teaching teens basic chores like laundry, we have to be careful not to be snippy and make them feel bad about not knowing how to do it yet. “If they haven’t learned, it’s because we haven’t taught them,” she says, “so parents need to acknowledge [to their kids] that they’ve been over-helping.” Instead, show them the ropes, watch them do it themselves once to make sure they’ve got it, and then let them handle it on their own.

  1. Pump gas

“When they learn to drive, they better know how to pump gas, okay?” Lythcott-Haims says. “I know of college students who have always had their parents fill their tank, whether at home in high school or even in college. The parents just top off the tank whenever they come visit her. Well, one day a 20-year-old student is out driving around, and her tank is near empty. And she says, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get gas. I’ve never done that. But I’m smart, I can figure it out.'” Long story short: She accidentally puts diesel in the car because no one ever taught her what to do. That’s an expensive and unnecessary lesson.

  1. Pitch in

“Employers these days are saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, what is it with these 20-somethings, they just want to be told exactly what to do, kind of step-by-step, and they want to be applauded for doing it,'” Lythcott-Haims says. “If we’ve just served them, if parents have just said their academics and activities are all that matter and we’ll take care of everything else, no chores and no helping out around the house, then they get out into the workplace and they don’t have that pitch-in mindset.”

“Kids need to learn how to contribute for the betterment of the whole,” she says. “Maybe they have siblings and one is stressed out about something, and the other says, ‘I’ll do your chore for you. Because I see you’re stressed out and you need some help.’ That’s building a sense of it’s not just about me. I can do for others.”

  1. Advocate for themselves

Most of us have heard the stories of the parents who are calling college professors to complain about their kids’ grades, right? News flash: This needs to stop in high school, too. “If you’re the one throughout high school who’s always got to be emailing the teacher, you basically are teaching your kid, ‘You’re not competent, and I’m going to have to do it for you,’ which is terribly harming,” Lythcott-Haims says.

Instead, teach your child how to have a conversation with an authority figure and advocate for themselves. “So I’d say, ‘Look honey, I know you’re frustrated about this grade or you’re upset about that happening on the soccer team, or you don’t understand this information. You need to be the one to go talk to your teacher respectfully and advocate for yourself.'” she says. “And if they look at you in horror, say, ‘You can do it; I know you can do it. Do you want to practice with me?’ The only way to teach them is to get out of their way and make them do it.”

Also, prepare them to listen well to what the other person is saying and understand it might not go their way. “Many times they won’t get the outcome they desire, and it’s ‘Well, ‘I tried.’ And they come home and they learn to cope with it, because not everything in life will go your way.”

  1. Pack their own bag

“We’re always putting their stuff in their backpacks,” Lythcott-Haims says. “‘Oh, don’t want you to forget your homework!’ And then that backpack becomes a bag or a briefcase one day in the workplace, and they haven’t learned that skill of being responsible for remembering their own stuff, doing that inventory every morning, ‘What do I need? Wallet, keys, lunch, work, laptop.'”

  1. Order at restaurants

While this skill should be taught sooner than high school, if that’s where parents find themselves, it’s not too late. If they’ve never ordered for themselves, say, “Hey, guys, it’s time you started ordering for yourselves. I realize it’s not for me to decide what you’re going to eat, or me to assume you’re going to have your usual order, or for me to order for the whole family,'” she says.

Remind them to look the server in the eye, be polite, communicate their request, and say, “thank you.” “One day before long, they’re going to be out with friends or out with a girlfriend or boyfriend, and they’re going to want to have that skill to not only order food, but to do so respectfully—and not look like a jerk who’s an entitled kid with a credit card, who can pay for it, but can’t really treat the server respectfully,” Lythcott-Haims says.

  1. Talk to strangers

“Their life will be full of strangers, if we think about it, but we have this blanket rule, ‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ which isn’t the right rule,” Lythcott-Haims says. “The right rule would be, ‘Let me teach you how to discern the very few, creepy strangers from the vast, vast majority of normal strangers.’ That’s a skill.”

Then, send your children out in the world to talk to strangers—safe ones. Lythcott-Haims taught her own kids this skill by sending them to a store within walking distance of their suburban home to run a small errand and ask the sales clerk for help. She handed them a $20 bill and off they went. “They come back with a spring in their step,” she says.

  1. Go grocery shopping

Has your child ever even noticed that the grocery store aisles are nicely labeled with signs hanging from the ceiling? They should know how to navigate a supermarket on their own, Lythcott-Haims says. “Send them off on their own with one of those little hand-held baskets to go get five or six things,” she says. “If you’ve got a 13-year-old, and you’ve never let him or her out of your sight in a grocery store, you’re going to be freaking out; but 13-year-olds don’t get abducted from grocery stores.”

  1. Plan an outing

“Whenever the peer group is old enough and ready to plan an outing, let them do it,” Lythcott-Haims says. “I’m the parent who’s very comfortable with my 12-year-old girl going to a matinee movie with friends where she arranged it—you know, one parent’s going to do the drop-off, one’s doing the pickup, but the girls are getting the tickets, bringing money for snacks.”

While you should ask them to walk you through the plan so you know they are not setting off willy-nilly, don’t let your fears for them make them fearful of the world. “Making their way out into the world’ to go to the movie, or to go to a mall, or to go walk up and down the big street in town and then get some food somewhere, whatever it is—they want that,” Lythcott-Haims says. “This is them trying to spread their wings.”

  1. Take public transportation

When I travel around the country, people say, ‘Oh, my gosh. I wouldn’t let my 17-year-old daughter ride the metro alone,'” Lythcott-Haims says. “And I’m like, ‘What’s your long-term plan here? Would you let your 25-year-old daughter? Is it even up to you when she’s 25?'”

“Of course, [17 is] old enough! People join the Marines and the Army and the Air Force and the Navy at 18,” Lythcott-Haims points out. “This is just a lovely example of how far we’ve strayed, because no one is yet saying at 18 they’re too young to sign up to go fight for our country. So, we’re fine when [kids choose the military], but the kids who choose a four-year college? Oh, no, no. They need their mom or dad there all the time. It’s a reminder of how absurd it is.”