Spend any amount of time on Facebook and you’re likely to come across someone complaining about kids who want more and more but give less and less. And it’s not limited to kids; many adults grow with a case of the “gimmies” – always looking to get something for nothing, while not appreciating what they already have or empathizing with others who have less.
Raising your child’s social awareness and nurturing a caring spirit is one of the most helpful things parents can do to promote a sense of caring in the family and the community. And when people care for others they learn to truly value themselves too.
Most young children demonstrate a willingness to share and comfort others. Even toddlers show an ability to empathize; when they notice a friend is unhappy they bring that friend’s “lovey” to her, pat her head or back, or even give her a hug. What prompts this kind of caring, and how can you promote it in your own children?
It’s not hard, but it does develop slowly over time. Young children are egocentric so it may take years of practice before they start to show empathy on a consistent basis. Remember to encourage and applaud all efforts by your little one; after all, adults aren’t empathetic all of the time either.
The best way to help your child to develop a sense of empathy and caring is for him to see you caring for others. Many parents routinely help others but their children aren’t aware of these caring actions. Don’t be afraid to let you child know how you care for others and why it’s important to you. Include your child so he can experience how good it feels to help others. Have him help you make and deliver a meal for a neighborhood family, or pick up some groceries for a friend. If you volunteer as a coach, classroom parent, scout leader, etc, explain to your child what volunteering means and why you choose to give up your time to volunteer.
The holidays are great opportunities to focus on helping others rather than getting things for ourselves. Many organizations have a “Giving Tree,” offer to “Adopt a Family,” or sponsor coat and food drives to help the less fortunate in their community. Invite your child to choose a few toys or items of clothing she no longer loves to donate for a child who may not have as many toys or clothes. Let your child bag up the items and go with you to drop them off at your chosen charity.
Modeling caring and empathy for your child, discussing social issues, and involving your children in caring for others are the best ways to make a lasting impression that will follow them into adulthood.
One of our family’s favorite ways to show caring for our neighbors is by “Ghosting” neighbors in October. Although the kids are understandably excited about receiving mystery treats, they’re even more excited about putting together Ghosting treat for a couple of our neighbors. Every year they decide who to Ghost then roam the Halloween aisles looking for just the right treats for the intended recipients.
How does your family show empathy and caring for others?