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Careismatic: Teaching Children To Be Caring And Empathetic:

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

While as adults we may not necessarily be inclined to think so, some studies suggest that humans are born inclined to be caring and empathetic. In fact research reveals that infants who cry along with another (in a nursery setting) have a greater tendency to grow up with the most empathy for their peers.

Still, while this may be the case among very young infants, older toddlers and children, have little problem expressing a bit more selfish behavior, and experts say it’s because they are not developmentally able to understand the concept of compassion and empathy. So, where did it go? It’s still there, but as they learn more about the world and themselves, through themselves, it simply got sidetracked. So, now it’s your job to help it successfully resurface.

Taking Action:

Label Behavior (Both Good and Bad): When your child acts in an unkind (and unacceptable) manner, make sure to address the issue immediately, but kindly. If for instance your child strikes out against another, don’t hesitate to tell him/her that such behavior makes you and the other person sad, and that it hurts (both physically and emotionally). Then, proceed to teach your child how to touch “nicely”. And don’t forget to ask them how that feels, and how they can help make a “bad” situation better.

At the same token you should praise positive behavior and identifying it as such. For instance, if your child kisses one of your “boo boos”, make sure to tell him/her that he/she is being kind and caring. Your reaction will help him/her learn that such (appropriate) behavior is both recognized and valued.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: Get excited when your child behaves properly and acts kindly. Experts also suggest telling your child what he/she did to please you and to be specific. For example, say it was very generous and kind of you to share the last piece of cake with your brother. That made him very happy. Look, he’s smiling to say thank you.

Share And Share Alike: It’s important to encourage your childe to share his/her feelings with you, and you should be ready, willing, and able to do the same. Allow your child to see your interest being giving him/her your undivided attention and LISTENING to what he/she has to say. NEVER undermine your child’s feelings or opinions (just because they are children and younger than you). Also, you should be ready to reiterate what your child has conveyed to you, so if he/she says boo hoo, acknowledge that he/she may be feeling sad. Although your child may not be able to tell you what exactly has upset him/her, he/she WILL be able to talk about how they are feeling. You should also be able to convey similar feelings. For example, let you child know that you are feeling ad because he/she didn’t listen to directions or pick up his/her toys. This is one way to teach you child that actions (his/hers specifically) have consequences and affect others (either in a “good” way or a “bad” way).

Use Others As An Example: Encourage your child to recognize when someone else is acting appropriately or kindly. You can even point out benevolent behavior. Point out to your child when someone has done something nice for you. Say things, like “wasn’t it kind and nice when the lady at the store let us go in front of her because she saw mommy was in a rush?” “That really made me feel better”. “I must remember to return the favor to someone (else) someday”. By verbalizing feelings you help to reinforce your child’s understanding of what it means to act kindly and how behavior can affect people around you. Books, note experts are another great tool for teach feelings and behavior. Ask you child about a particular character (you are reading about) and ask your child to convey how he/she thinks the character is feelings in a given situation (both happy and sad). Tell your child how you would feel in the same situation, and ask him/her how he/she would react. This will give your child a better understanding of emotions (by relating to them).

Focus On Common Courtesy: You can’t expect a 20 something to KNOW it’s polite (and often expected) to show up to a new home with a housewarming gift, if they haven’t learned common courtesy and social protocol as children. Besides teaching children about proper responses, you also need to instill in them good manners, as a way of showing caring and respect (for others). Remind them that others are “hurt” and “sad” when they are not greeted, hugged and kissed, etc. In fact, experts assert that you can teach you child about being polite as soon as he/she can communicate verbally, simply be starting with please and thank you. Explain that others will be happy by such behavior and also more willing to visit or help again, when they are shown appreciation for their efforts. Impart these rules by asking you child to do something for you and ALWAYS recognizing his/her efforts. If he or she forgets to be courteous, try forgetting when he/she expects courtesy for something he/she has done. Learn to be the example by practicing polite behavior outside the home and even with those you’re familiar with, especially your child. Also try not to order (your child) but ask for his/her understanding as assistance. It will teach your child to do the same.

Anger Management: Refrain from using anger to control your child. While much of toddler behavior can be trying on your nerves and “keeping you cool”, remember; you are leading by example. Experts note, that when you express anger toward a (young) child, they retreat and withdraw. Instead, show empathy by saying that you understand their frustration with their sibling or situation, because now you are frustrated too, but that we should never do anything to hurt anyone or make them sad. And let him/her know that by making others sad or behaving badly, you are now very sad. Encourage you child to seek forgiveness by not only saying I’m sorry, but following up the apology with “healing” actions.

Be A Task Master: Studies show that be giving your child little things to do (jobs, if you will), you are teaching a good lesson in responsibility. You are also teaching conscientiousness, compassion, and caring. Let your child clean up his/her toys, play area, or feed the family pet. And don’t forget to praise his/her accomplishments by “applauding” your child for a job well done.

Mirror, Mirror: Kids learn most often by example. So, be conscious of what you are doing and the example you are setting. Put into practice to be kind and polite to everyone from the lady at the store to your mate (even when you are at odds). Speak kindly and eloquently and teach your child about proper tone and proper words. Reach above and beyond for others, starting with friends and family and explain why you are doing what your do, such as helping the homeless, or taking dinner over to a sick neighbor. Make sure that your child also understands that sometimes, even when people don’t act properly, it’s up to us to continue to set a positive example and NEVER stop being polite.

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