Children today are growing up in a selfie-driven digital world. It is associated with low levels of empathy, an increase in bullying behaviour, and a me-centred worldview.
In such a culture, it is easy for children to take the good things in their lives for granted, and for feelings of entitlement to ensue.
The problem with this self-centred, less empathic worldview is that it can hinder a child’s learning and ability to collaborate with others. Collaborating and innovative problem-solving are important skillsets to have in order to succeed in the 21st century.
But fret not, there are steps we can take to enhance our children’s aptitude for kindness. Here are some tips you can use at home.
Encourage empathy through stories
We can strengthen our children’s compassion by exploring the fictional universes of books and movies.
When children read books or watch movies about kindness and its impact on others, they begin to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes. Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, writes, “The right book can stir a child’s empathy better than any lesson or lecture ever could, and the right book matched with the right child can be the gateway to opening his heart to humanity.”
The right book can stir a child’s empathy better than any lesson or lecture ever could.
After reading a book or watching a movie, we can ask questions that encourage our children to reflect on the actions taken by these fictional characters and verbalise how they would feel if they were in their shoes.
Be a coach, not a discipline master
To help children consider the consequences of their actions on others, use logical reasoning. Always remind them they have control over their actions, and nudge them towards making the right choices. Also remind them to treat others the same way they would like to be treated.
Instead of telling our children outright what is right or wrong, or scolding them for behaving in a certain way, we can ask questions that prompt them to think of others’ feelings. For example, “How will Aidan feel if we take his favourite toy and hide it away from him?”
By asking questions, we prompt our children to reflect and think. As a coach, we can better influence them to choose kindness over judgment or other forms of undesirable social behaviour.
Give back to the community
The best way to teach children kindness is to model it in our daily lives.
Make it a point to engage in meaningful volunteer activities during school or public holidays. These can widen our children’s perspectives, and increase their awareness of other people’s challenges and struggles.
It need not be a massive project or undertaking. It can be as simple as cooking for an elderly neighbour, or joining your local community centre for a visit to the old folk’s home.
Take small, consistent steps, and try to make giving a lifestyle and family value, not just a one-off event. Remember to make time after to share your experiences and lessons learnt as a family.
Volunteering can widen our children’s perspectives, and increase their awareness of other people’s challenges and struggles.
Talk about the importance of inclusivity
Whenever opportunities arise, talk to our children about people from different racial, ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds, or who may have different learning or physical needs.
Ask our children, “What do we have in common with this person? What’s different?” This helps to lower the barriers between us, while increasing our awareness of the things that we have in common.
Remind them that everyone is an individual and has unique likes and dislikes. When children are encouraged to form friendships with people from different walks of life, they are more likely to develop an inclusive mindset.
By helping our kids see that everyone has a story, and face challenges, it encourages them to look beyond the surface and discover the person who lies within.
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