The times they are a changin’…
We have advanced exponentially than our ancestors and we can see it reflected in our everyday life. One glaring example is in how our children are growing up. Gone are the days of playing outside until the streetlights turn on; kids are busy staring at screens, from phones to tablets, computers, the list goes on. It seems it’s easier to stick a device in a child’s hand and let them mind themselves, but there is something missing.
Experts at Harvard University have been studying what makes a well-adjusted child in these changing times. They presented their top list of research-based parental advice that’s vouched by early childhood psychologists like Dr. Michele Borba and Deborah Temkin as well as organizations like the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Here are 5 tips to raise a good kid, according to Harvard psychologists:
Being a Good Parent: How To Raise A ‘Good Kid’
1. Develop Caring, Loving Relationships
While it may seem like an obvious idea, children learn about caring and respect when they are shown it themselves . When our children feel our love, they become attached to us. This makes it easier for us to get our messages across and have them really understand and learn.
Harvard psychologists say, “Loving our children takes many forms, such as tending to their physical and emotional needs, providing a stable and secure family environment, showing affection, respecting their individual personalities, taking a genuine interest in their lives, talking about things that matter, and affirming their efforts and achievements.’
You can do this by planning time together to play and share in something you both enjoy. You can also have meaningful conversations, asking each other questions to bring out thoughts, feelings, and experiences .
Keep Reading: How To Break A Cycle of Negativity As A Parent
2. Empathize With Your Child and Model Empathy For Others
It is also important to teach our children about empathy, and the best way to do that is to again be their leading example. By being empathetic towards our children, and especially to others, we teach them what it means to understand another person’s feelings and be able to communicate to them. We should teach our children to not only focus on their close ‘circle of concern’ (immediate family, close friends), but to also ‘zoom out’ and focus on the bigger picture, like a new student in class or a person in a completely different country .
“Children also learn empathy by watching those we notice and appreciate. They’ll notice if we treat a server in a restaurant or a mail carrier as if they’re invisible. On the positive side, they’ll notice if we welcome a new family in our child’s school or express concern about another child in our child’s class who is experiencing one challenge or another.”
3. Be A Strong Ethical Role Model and Mentor
Children are like a sponge, they absorb and learn things based on their surroundings. They learn ethical values by observing us; our actions and the actions of other adults that they respect will mold their actions .
The Harvard early childhood psychologists suggest to, “Pay close attention to whether you are practicing honesty, fairness, and caring yourself and modeling skills like solving conflicts peacefully and managing anger and other difficult emotions effectively. But, nobody is perfect all the time. That is why it’s important for us, in fact, to model for children humility, self-awareness, and honesty by acknowledging and working on our mistakes and flaws.”
While we may seem like superheroes to our children, it’s important to let them know that nobody’s perfect, but by showing that we put in the effort, they will respond in kind.
4. Provide Opportunities For Children To Practice Empathy
Giving examples of empathy simply isn’t enough; children need to be involved in order to better understand the concept and recognize when they should be empathetic, and when they are not .
“Children are born with the capacity for empathy, but it needs to be nurtured throughout their lives. Learning empathy is in certain respects like learning a language or a sport. It requires practice and guidance. Regularly considering other people’s perspectives and circumstances helps make empathy a natural reflex and, through trial and error, helps children get better at tuning into others’ feelings and perspectives.”
You can help your children practice empathy by discussing ethical dilemmas with them. Now keep in mind that they are children so these aren’t going to be philosophical debates, but maybe something similar to ‘Should I invite the new student from class to my birthday party if my best friend doesn’t like them.’]
5. Help Children Develop Self-Control and Manage Feelings Effectively
“Often when children don’t express empathy it’s not because they don’t have it. It’s because some feeling or image is blocking their empathy. Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed, for example, by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. Helping children manage these negative feelings as well as stereotypes and prejudices about others is often what “releases” their empathy.”
It’s important that we help our children communicate their emotions and feelings, because they could be what is stopping them from showing empathy. Help your children by identifying these emotions and feelings like frustration, sadness and anger and encourage them to talk to you about why they’re feeling that way .
Raising a good kid isn’t just something that can be solved by reading 1 article or even 100 articles; it is a constantly evolving process. These 5 tips are here to serve as a foothold, something to help push you forward.