Reading: How to Raise a Kind Child

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How to Raise a Kind Child

Why teaching compassion is like giving your kid a superpower in today’s world.

The Covey

Photo by Andrea Tummons

One of the side effects of the political climate we’re in is that it can feel like the world is experiencing an actual deficit in kindness. Everyone is out for themselves, happily bending the truth to fit their needs. It’s a tough world out there, and we all need to steel ourselves.

But that’s not the whole picture, say Dale Atkins and Amanda Salzhauer, the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law team behind The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children.

We actually believe that there is a renewed interest in kindness right now,” they say. “We can be kind and assertive…so giving our children opportunities to practice kindness from a young age may advantage them as adults.”

TheCovey sat down with Dale and Amanda to talk about what parents can do to teach kids empathy, inspire a culture of compassion, and make sure we don’t raise a new crop of bullies.

What advantages do kids who can connect with others have over those who can’t?
Kids who can connect with others are often more open to others. Forming those connections helps them feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. They are happier, feel better about themselves and feel they have something to offer. They demonstrate empathy. They do better in school, tend to have better social skills,  and are more likely to be involved in leadership positions with their peers.

What can a parent do on a daily basis to make sure their child connects?
Connect with them! Find moments throughout the day when you have special time…doing something together, walking the dog, helping put the dishes on the table, creating a bath time routine are a few examples. As parents we can also model taking a break from electronics to have face to face time. Having a conversation about something you saw during the day that was interesting or something that interests your child. Ask your child’s opinion about something you saw or read or what they want for dinner  (whether they would like chicken or a burger). You can also help them make a call to check in to see how a sick friend is feeling,

Where do bullies come from? How can we avoid raising one?
Role modeling is a good start. Treating our kids with respect, listening to them, allowing them to have the feelings they experience and validating, rather than minimizing, those feelings when they face challenging experiences (“I see you are concerned about that” rather than “don’t worry about that” or “you’re being silly”).  Help them to learn how to share, to notice how other people may be feeling, offer ways to help other people, and to offer different ways to express themselves when they “bully” others.

How much does stress at home or in school play in creating unkindness?
Stress plays an important role. Just like us, when our kids feel stressed they may not be able to manage those feelings in a productive and healthy way. They are less likely to use good coping skills and may be more likely to “snap,” lose their temper, and be unkind. Sometimes when one child is being unkind to another it may have nothing to do with the individual but be triggered by something that happened earlier in the day (a bad grade, another child being mean, or even stress at home). Another thing to be conscious of is that our own stress, including rushing and feeling overwhelmed, can be “contagious” and make our kids become stressed as well.

What is the difference between a child being kind and being weak?
Kindness can be and often is a source of strength. One can be strong and assertive and have positive feelings about oneself while being kind to oneself and to others. A child may be weak when they don’t have the tools to stand up for themself or others, feel intimidated or be the object of  bullying, and then their sense of themself can become diminished. When we encourage our children to be kind to themselves and recognize opportunities to show acts of kindness to others, they can feel good about who they are and that they can make a difference in the world. This can serve as a way to help them feel strong and important.

What do you do if your child has processing issues that interfere with their ability to read other’s faces and gestures?
For kids who have difficulty reading others’ nonverbal communication, social interactions can be challenging. Teaching your child what some common facial expression or body postures mean can be helpful. For example, you can model what an angry face and pose might look like by knitting your eyebrows, narrowing your eyes and making your hands into fists. This will give your child specific things to look for when interacting with peers. Another thing you might do is point out examples on TV or in movies and ask your child how he thinks the character might be feeling and why. You can also share your assessment and tell your child the cues you are using to make your interpretation. Finally, you might want to role play with your child what he might say to another child to understand how he or she is feeling if he is unable to figure it out.

How do you teach children to master negative emotions?
Feelings are just that…feelings, and all feelings are normal. We ascribe all kinds of weight to them and that makes us think of them as negative or positive. It is how we handle our feelings that is important. It is okay to feel a certain way in anticipation of or in response to a person or an event. We can encourage children to recognize what they are feeling, which may include helping them to find a word that describes it if they don’t have the language. Then we can help them learn ways to allow that feeling to be a part of them (sometimes expressing it) without hurting themselves or others. By role modeling, role playing, and suggesting options, we can give kids appropriate ways to express their feelings. This will helps them to process the feelings they have rather than have them build up inside or cause them distress.

Dr. Dale Atkins is a licensed psychologist who has more than 25 years of experience focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well, managing stress and maintaining balance in one’s life. Her daughter-in-law, Amanda Salzhauer, MSW, has worked as a social worker in clinics and private practice.

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