Raising caring and compassionate children

I read an article in the Sunday life magazine from a well known guest columnist entitled “Motherhood has made me tough.” I am sure it was written with some tongue in cheek for entertainment value, but alas at the time, I didn’t find it very funny despite believing I have a good sense of humour!

Here are some excerpts:

“What I didn’t know before I became a parent is how annoying children can be. Some of them complain ALL OF THE TIME…Children are greedy, they can be mean, they can manipulate you…and demand attention…”

Have I given you enough to get the general idea? There was a lot more.

I was particularly annoyed as it was published in a Mother’s day special edition!

I couldn't help but ponder, and of course share my thoughts with my darling husband, as we drove home from the farmer’s market, that if we are to raise a generation of children who are caring, compassionate and socially responsible, then parents must lead by example! After all where do children learn the most? From those they love the most and model themselves on - parents.

Calling children names like: annoying, demanding, greedy and manipulative suggests that they are ‘fixed character traits’ that we just have to live with. I am pleased to say that the research and my experience as a parent suggest that this is JUST NOT TRUE! Just like any skill, being kind, caring and thoughtful can be learned over time.

I have seen our son go from not sharing a single thing with anyone as a toddler to understanding that ‘sharing is caring’ as a young boy. This didn’t happen magically – my husband and I made special efforts to share with each other and with him so he could see how lovely it is to share and to care about other people and how unpleasant it is when someone doesn’t share! I am not suggesting that he gets it right all of the time, but I know we are heading in the right direction as he passes one of his precious crisps or chocolates my way.

Just a few weeks ago we went to a huge party and he brought his big tub of Lego blocks and shared them with every child at the party. I was so happy to see how freely he shared his blocks and interacted with the other kids. We had a long talk on the way to the party about sharing and I explained how I would make sure that no-one would take his Lego blocks home (this was his big fear) - they would just play with the blocks at the party and if anything was broken or lost, I would replace it.

On the way home we talked about how much fun it was to share and how kind it was of him to let the others play with his Lego blocks and how great it was to see how happy everyone was to play together. (PS, the host of the party says she keeps finding pieces of Lego around the yard! Chuckle, Chuckle).

Like everything a child learns, instruction and example go a long way. Here are some of the things we do in our family to raise our son to be a caring and compassionate social citizen, so he can make a positive difference in the lives of other people and in the world!

SOCIAL AWARENESS

We regularly buy the magazine ‘The Big Issue’ from a disabled man in our local area. That has given us the opportunity to talk with our son about people with disabilities, homelessness and how we can help others for no other reason than it is kind to care about and help other people.

COMPASSION AND CONSIDERATION

We try to acknowledge our son Cameron’s feelings or his circumstances rather than just ‘making’ him do things. For example: if he is busy playing and it’s time for dinner, we give him a few minutes warning to help him prepare for the transition from what he’s doing to move to the dinner table. If he is crying an upset about something even we think it is so unimportant like “the toast is cut the wrong way”, we show him compassion and understanding by acknowledging that this is important in his world.

CARE FOR OTHERS

Caring and Compassionate Children

I share the impact that Cameron’s behaviour has on me when he won’t cooperate. For example in as compassionate a voice as I can muster… “It’s bath time now. Let’s get you squeaky clean and ready for bed.”

Cameron: “No, I don’t want a bath!”

Me: “Do you know why it’s good to have a bath? You get all of the dirt off from the day and it helps you relax and go to sleep. You know, I’ve been working all day honey and I’m really tired right now, but I want to take care of you. But when you refuse to get in the bath, I feel even more tired. If you get in the bath we can talk and have fun together blowing bubbles. I just want you to know that when you cooperate with me you help me and I help you, so its win/win and if you don’t it’s harder for both of us”.

This way he learns that his choices can have a positive or negative effect on himself and others. We also have a little mantra “cooperating makes getting on well with others easy.” 

Yes sure it takes longer to explain this than “if you don’t get in the bath right now there will be no TV/Sweets/Movie etc for you this week”. However, while the latter is quicker it usually only ends in tears and then no-one has any fun and he doesn’t learn about care for others! I want to take a long term rather than short term approach to parenting.

GRATITUDE

Every night at dinner we each share our three highlights for the day so that we can feel gratitude for our wonderful lives together. It brings about a feeling of happiness and support for each other as we enjoy and celebrate each others life!

Believe me, as parents we don’t always get it right but Colin and I are doing our best to keep in mind that we are the role models for our Cameron, and if we don’t help him learn how to be a compassionate and caring person, then who will? It’s our wish to raise a caring and thoughtful boy who becomes a fabulous teenager (yes they are out there!), a wonderful friend and family member throughout his life and makes a positive difference in this world.

If you’d like to know more about helping your child become a more understanding, cooperative and caring child, you might like to have a look at the Environment and Social Understanding Inspired Children Life Skills Home Activity Book. There are twelve easy-to-follow life skills activities you can complete in just 15 minutes at a time. Here are just some of the skills and knowledge your child can learn:

Understanding and managing bullying; Using the garbage and recycling bins at home and school;  An introduction to making ethical choices and frameworks for making ethical decisions; Social awareness about children with disabilities, homelessness, racial discrimination and social classes; environmental awareness including water conservation and paper recycling.

Remember each activity only takes around 15 minutes to complete and you can complete them at your own pace at a time that suits you and your family’s lifestyle... Most importantly, imagine how good you’ll feel about the huge difference you’re making as a parent to your child’s understanding about how to care for family, friends and peers as well as the environment.