Sometimes it feels like the world of parenting is full of
advice to stop unwanted behaviors. With just a few clicks, we can find out how
to end the bedtime battles, how to stop a temper tantrum, how to make whining
go away and how to "fix" just about every obstacle parents face
along the way.
Parents are natural problem solvers, and easy instructions to
stop problem behaviors are a welcome relief when parenting becomes
overwhelming. I think it's safe to say that we've all faced down the end of a
long day of being a mom or dad and wondered how to prevent that day from ever happening again.
As much as those problem-solving articles can help us cope
with the hard stuff, we also need to focus on the positive. There are many
ways to build kids up and give them the tools to make positive choices. If we
want to raise kind, caring and happy kids, we have to take a proactive approach
to teaching prosocial behaviors.
I sometimes wonder if I go too far with the therapist-mom
stuff. I try not to pour it on too thick, but I do tend to focus on empathy,
verbalizing feelings and working through conflict and big feelings together. I
teach relaxation strategies and help my kids find strategies that work for them
when it comes to coping with frustration. I also tend to hang back and let them
take the lead—they don't need a rescue, they need support. I trust them to
seek help from me when they need it. It's a balancing act, and we all work on
finding that balance together.
I think it's working. I see them empathizing with each
other. I watch them help others at the park. And it warms my heart when they
talk about saving coins to help another family during the holidays. They have
big hearts, and they care about others.
All kids are different and raising caring kids can't be done
overnight or by following one specific script, but there are steps parents can
take to raise kids who care about others.
1. Build a feelings
I can't tell you how many kids end up in my office
completely overwhelmed by feelings they can't quite identify. It's very
difficult to process and cope with your emotions when you can't even figure out
what those emotions are.
Talk openly about feelings—the positive ones and the
negative ones—each day. Draw feelings faces and ask your kids to connect the
dots between what they're thinking and what they're feeling in response to
those thoughts. Once they have that down, ask them to think about what their
bodies feel like when they feel mad, happy, excited, sad or worried. The more
your kids talk about feelings, the more feelings you can add to the mix.
When reading the Ramona books with my daughter, we had in-depth discussions about the stress Ramona's parents experienced when they were low on money to pay the bills and how Ramona felt when her mom went back to work full time.
Understanding feelings plays a huge role in caring for
others. When kids can read the emotions of others and think about why another
person might feel sad, mad or worried, they can empathize with them and provide
2. Focus on emotional
Books can be great tools for building empathy in young
children. Pointing out facial expressions in picture books is a great first
step in helping kids consider the thoughts and feelings of others, but taking
an extra step is even better.
Whether you're reading chapter books together with older
kids or reading picture books with young kids, take breaks from the text to ask
your kids to think about how all of the characters in the book or story are
feeling. When reading the Ramona books with my daughter, we had in-depth
discussions about the stress Ramona's parents experienced when they were low on
money to pay the bills and how Ramona felt when her mom went back to work full
Focusing on emotions within the text helps kids learn to
decode the feelings of others and empathize.
While most parents help kids churn out thank you notes after a party, writing a heartfelt thank you is more than just saying you love the gift.
3. Volunteer together
Many parents go to great lengths to shield kids from the
suffering of others in an effort to protect their innocence. I get that. We want
to keep them little and help them feel safe in the world. When we volunteer to
help others, however, we empower our kids to become change makers. We show them
that even though there are people suffering in this world, they can make a
4. Show empathy and
If we want our kids to be caring and kind, we have to show
them how to do it. We can't insist that they use kind words every minute of the
day and then turn around and scream at the guy trying to fix the wireless. That
sends a mixed message. Sure, we are all entitled to bad days, and we don't
always handle things the way we should, but we can step back and talk about our
choices with our kids. We can make things right.
We can also express gratitude. While most parents help kids
churn out thank you notes after a party, writing a heartfelt thank you is more
than just saying you love the gift. Encourage your kids to write thank you
notes beyond the birthday. I recently received a thank you note from a friend
who appreciated my support of her new book. That kind gesture put a huge smile
on my face. When we take the time to thank the people who support us, we build
a community of helpers.