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Maybe You're the Problem With Entitled Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Note: This article has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with kindness.

Like the rest of the world, I was shocked to my very core when I read about the attacks in Paris. Tears streamed down my face as I thought about the fear and sadness that can only result from such a tragedy. I was shaken.

I waited a few days to talk about it with my kids. We encountered a small memorial set up outside our city hall while riding bikes over the weekend. I gave a brief, age-appropriate account of the attacks, and then we talked about empathy and compassion before saying a few prayers.

RELATED: I Don't Know What to Say to My Kids About Paris

When tragedy strikes, people come together. We light candles, we send prayers if we believe in the power of prayer, we search for ways to help and we light up our social media profiles to show that we care. We come together.

Until we don't.

Sadly, I've seen a few negative Facebook posts in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The worst part? Many of these diatribes boil down to a lack of compassion.

Parents love to talk to me about what they perceive to be a generation of entitled, spoiled kids in the making. They cite lack of parenting skills and too much emphasis on self-esteem as the main triggers of this "epidemic." They ask me what needs to change in order to raise a generation of kind and responsible kids. Then they hop on Facebook and rant about refugees and terrorism.

High on emotions and low on facts, they demonstrate a complete lack of compassion in a public forum.

The truth is that if we want to raise kind, empathic and responsible children, we have to focus on compassion. At the heart of compassion is the notion that we are not alone in this world. We care about others, and others care about us. When we all help each other, everyone wins.

Follow these steps to teach compassion in your home.

1. Live a compassionate life

We send messages about compassion in big and small ways. When we stop what we're doing to help a friend or family member in need, either by providing a listening ear or taking some kind of action, we show our children that helping others is important. When we comfort our children through skinned knees and friendship troubles, we demonstrate the power of empathy.

Living a compassionate life means caring for others and empathizing during difficult times. In volunteering our time, we teach the importance of community. In helping one another within the family, we show our children that we can make one another feel better simply by pitching in and being present. That's a powerful lesson.

2. Talk about it

If we want our children to demonstrate empathy and compassion (two fairly difficult concepts in the mind of a child), we have to talk about them. Help your child develop a feelings vocabulary but don't focus solely on your child. Take it one step further by talking about how others feel in various situations.

Role play is a great way to help kids understand and practice empathy and compassion. Come up with scenarios that your child is likely to encounter and play out ways to resolve them.

3. Help others

Little kids can be very big helpers. While it might seem like community service projects are better for older kids, even little kids can make a big difference. Host a lemonade stand to raise money for a family in need. Help an elderly neighbor rake leaves or carry groceries. Put together activity packs for kids undergoing medical treatment in your local children's hospital.

When we make efforts (both big and small) to help others, we teach kids the importance of extending a hand to those in need.

4. Treat others with respect and patience

It is widely known that young children mimic the behavior they see, so it stands to reason that they will do as you do in various situations. If you want to raise a compassionate child, you have to consider how you behave all of the time (not just when you happen to be doing something nice for someone else).

Treating others with respect shows our children that all people have a right to be treated in a kindly manner. Remaining patient during a frustrating interaction demonstrates the importance of understanding that sometimes life is hard, and everyone has a bad day once in a while.

The single most important thing to remember about teaching compassion is that compassion doesn't discriminate. You can't call yourself compassionate because you helped a few people, if you then turn around and discriminate against a few others.

RELATED: The Brutality of Peaceful Parenting

You might think that Facebook to parenting is a big leap to make, but I find in my psychotherapy practice that it isn't. When we carry around the strong emotions that trigger us to vent in a public forum in search of support, it's nearly impossible to shield our children from those same feelings. We owe it to our children to practice compassion every single day—even when something terrible scares us to our very cores.

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