Raise An Empathetic Child

With the recent mass shooting in Oregon, I expected to hear more about how a young man became so anti-social that he was willing to kill total strangers. Yet all we got was debate on gun control. I'm not against debates about better laws, but I believe the best answer is to address the hearts of the humans involved.

How can parents raise empathetic, rather than antisocial kids? Research suggests that some things work, and some don't. An article in the New York Times* reminds us--

"...shaping pro-social behavior is a tricky business. For instance, certain financial incentives seem to deter pro-social impulses, a phenomenon called reward undermining...

Reliance on a reward and punishment model of parenting—extrinsic motivations—is not effective in developing pro-social behavior. The article continues:

"Parental modeling is important, of course; sympathy and compassion should be part of children’s experience long before they know the words."

"Don’t offer material rewards for pro-social behavior, but do offer opportunities to do good — opportunities that the child will see as voluntary. And help children see themselves and frame their own behavior as generous, kind, helpful...."

"Empathy, sympathy, compassion, kindness and charity begin at home, and very early."

But how? Parenting the heart of your child is harder than simply aiming for behavioral change, but it reaps the long-lasting, pro-social behaviors and attitudes that build a strong society. Here are the five steps I take when I work with preschool children to develop hearts of kindness.

1. Help children develop an awareness of others; simply paying attention to what others wear, do, and say.

2. Help children understand that others have feelings, that those feelings might be different from their own, and that what one child does affects others.

3. Help children learn the language of feelings--sad, happy, worried, irritated, angry, scared—and recognize them in others and themselves. These seem like obvious things, but to a young child, they are not.

4. Constantly describe what is happening—"Johnny is crying because he is sad." "When you made a mad face at Carrie, she felt scared." I don't shame any child for feeling an emotion, but I do help them understand that they have power to control the actions that follow. Just because we get angry, we have no right to hurt another person. This requires a particular type of discipline that avoids anger on our part, yet trains the child to admit his mistake and plan for a better response the next time.

5. Discipline using heart based routines. The way we discipline—what we think, say, and do when children disobey—trains children to handle the stresses of life. When we train them to "be angry yet do not sin" we give them a valuable gift.

The seminar "Cooperation, Consequences, and Keeping Your Sanity" is designed to train parents in effective, heart-focused discipline routines. Get more information about this valuable seminar to by clicking on this link: www.d6culture.com/seminars