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The need of the hour is to sow the seeds of kindness and respect from a young age. Today’s world needs people who are kind, respectful, and empathetic. The roots of kindness can be found at home. This article explores the different ways that parents can sensitise their children to the needs of others and the importance of empathy.
We can teach children a new language, a sport, a science experiment – so many different things. We can also teach them an equally important, and sometimes overlooked habit – kindness.
Kindness is a quality that can be taught, but to truly raise kind and respectful children, one needs to make empathy and love a part of every day! Children are innately kind and warm-hearted, and we can help them nurture their empathy and kindness into their later years as well.
So, how can we effectively raise kind and respectful children?
Children often learn through observation and imitation. If you want to raise a kind child, modelling the same behaviour helps them pick up the same traits. Small acts of kindness can go a long way – whether it is helping someone in need, opening a door for someone else, or even helping your partner out at home.
Empathy, or the ability to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’, develops over time. While it may not come naturally to a two-year-old child, it can be modelled and taught over time. A three-year-old may be aware of a peer who is upset, but may not necessarily understand why they are upset. By about five or six, children are at a better stage to be able to empathise with others.
A crucial step in raising empathetic children is to make them feel cared for, and safe, and to encourage them to talk about their own feelings first. This helps them become aware of their own feelings, and also helps them understand when something is troubling or upsetting another person. If they get into an argument with a sibling or a friend, you can help them by asking them to imagine how the other person may be feeling, and then help them try and come up with an effective way to resolve the conflict.
Take some time out every week to practise small acts of kindness – these could range from volunteering at a shelter to helping someone cross the street, or even helping a relative or friend. Volunteering and helping others helps build character, and helps your child be more aware of the people around them. Kindness and good manners can be practised every day at home – encourage your children to say please and thank you, and encourage them to help at home – every little bit counts.
Parents, this is entirely your choice, but rewards reap benefits. If you notice your child doing something nice for someone else, a word of appreciation, or a small reward will go a long way. That being said, you can opt to recognise and appreciate good behaviour with words of encouragement, rather than material rewards. Over time, children shouldn’t feel like they will always be materialistically rewarded for being kind or showing respect.
It is natural for children to act out – once in a while. If and when this should happen, try and have a conversation with your child and understand the reasons behind their behaviour. Once you have understood this, it is important to hold them accountable for their actions. For example, if your child said something that upset you, it is important to let them know why it upset you. You can then try and help them learn to navigate through their emotions, and express their feelings without acting out or throwing tantrums.
Today, children have many sources for media consumption – from television to ads on YouTube, and even the things they read. Children are just as likely to imitate things they pick up via media sources. We understand you may not be able to always keep an eye out, however it is important to ask kids about the new things they may be watching. Be available for them in case they want to ask you something, or share an experience with you. Parents can also set parental controls to help regulate the kind of content their children consume.
The effects of different kinds of parenting styles and their link to child development cannot be stressed enough. Children learn through experiences, and their early childhood experiences can determine the kind of young adults they become.
While no parenting style is “better” than the other, and everyone has their own style, there are some styles that could encourage empathy, kindness, and respect, right from an early age.
Authoritarian parents usually believe that their children have to follow their rules, no matter what. Their focus is on discipline and obedience, and there is very little room for children to question these rules. Children are not involved in many discussions and problem-solving. Sometimes, authoritarian parents may use punishments, instead of rewards and encouragement, as a form of discipline.
Children of authoritarian parents could develop self-esteem issues in the future, as they could feel like their voice isn’t heard. Research shows that these children could tend to be aggressive later in life. This is largely due to bottled up frustration or fear.
Authoritative parents create their relationships with their children based on mutual understanding, and respect. While they do set rules, expectations, and consequences, they do so while taking their children’s opinions into account. Children are often involved in decision-making processes, and positive discipline, such as praise and reward systems, are used.
Children raised by authoritative parents are usually grounded, kind, and respectful of others. They also tend to have high self-esteem, are more confident, and can evaluate decisions by themselves. This is also linked to higher levels of empathy and understanding.
Permissive parents usually set rules, and boundaries, but rarely enforce them. Children are not held accountable for their actions, and there are few to no consequences. Permissive parents usually believe that their children will learn the most effectively with little interference from them.
Children raised by permissive parents could exhibit behavioural problems. They may not be able to empathise with others, and could ‘act out’ or throw tantrums if they are corrected by another adult, as they are not subjected to any authority or rules.
Sometimes parents are not able to give their children enough time or attention because of reasons that could include health issues, struggle with work-life-balance, or unavailability due to other circumstances. Uninvolved parents usually have no rules and regulations, and may not always know what their children are doing.
Children raised by uninvolved parents often find it difficult to adjust to social situations. They may be reserved, withdrawn, and cut-off, and therefore may find it difficult to empathise with others. They may often face behavioural problems, or just feel aloof and distant from others, with no sense of how to share feelings and make friends.
Whatever your style of parenting, it is important to remember that children learn as much and as well as we teach them! So it is necessary to mirror the behaviour you want your child to have, and teach them the value and need for kindness and respect. After all, a small act of kindness has the potential to go a long way!