We recently found this really interesting article that gives parents advice on how to raise their children to become kind, empathetic and considerate of others. According to a study carried out by Harvard University, 80% of the children who took part said they felt that their parents prioritised academic achievement and happiness over whether their child was caring towards other people, and grateful for all the positive things in their life.
It seems that although parents may say that they value the attribute of kindness and gratitude, they don’t often take the necessary steps to try and raise their children as such. We must remember that children aren’t born good or bad – it is up to us as parents to teach them the values that will help them grow to become kind and moral adults.
As a result of this study, psychologist Richard Weissbourd and the ‘Making Caring Common Project’ have come up with a set of five recommendations that will help parents raise their children to become moral, responsible and compassionate adults, who are grateful for all that they have. We recommend that you read the article in full as it makes some really important points, but here are two of the most important strategies given:
1. Give them opportunities to show kindness and express gratitude
Studies show that people who regularly express gratitude are more likely to be compassionate and forgiving of others, and live healthier and happier lives as a result. So, give your child opportunities to practice caring for others as much as possible – encourage them to help a friend with their homework or do a couple of age-appropriate chores at a neighbours’ house. The more frequently they practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for the good things they have in their lives, the more likely it is to become second nature to them in the long-term.
2. Be a role model
If we wish for our children to become more caring and empathetic we must first model this behaviour in our own lives. There’s no use in saying one thing and doing another, as we all know that children tend to do as we do rather than do as we say! Instilling ethical values in our children begins with us demonstrating to them how to treat people in a kind and respectful manner. Therefore, when engaging with other people, we must always endeavour to be honest, compassionate and fair. By ensuring that we ‘practice what we preach’, we maximise the likelihood that our children will adopt this moral attitude and behaviour and practice it in their own lives.
This article inspired us to also add a couple of ideas of our own:
– Sharing moments of gratitude
When you are all together as a family at dinner time or before reading a bedtime story, ask your children “What was your favourite part of the day?” This allows your children to look for the positives in their day, rather than the negatives. As they get older (over 5 years) you can change this to, “What are three things that you’re grateful for today?”. They may initially find it difficult to share these moments, and it’s important that you lead by example by sharing three things that you are grateful for first. And as well as nurturing a sense of gratitude in our children, this special one-on-one time also helps us to build a stronger connection with our children.
– Read books & share stories of kindness, compassion & gratitude
Taking the time to read to and/or with our children is such a wonderful way of spending time with them. And aside from the obvious benefits, it can also be used as an opportunity to teach our children the virtues of kindness, compassion and gratitude by reading them stories that explore these themes. We may have a favourite story from our own childhood that we could share. However, if you’re stuck for ideas (and even if you’re not!) we’d highly recommend ‘Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids’. It uses a really effective metaphor for what it actually means to be kind that young children (within the ages of 2-8) can understand and tend to respond well to, so if you have children within that age range, then we’d strongly recommend that you give it a try.