In the past two weeks we have been talking about how to raise kind and empathetic children. We have learned that being kind ourselves and showing empathy for our child’s feelings are the only real way this can happen. However, if we have not been parented that way ourselves, it is a challenge to actively change our own behavior, consistently behaving the way we would like to. To do this, we have to turn off the automatic responses in our own behavioral repertoire and insert well thought out responses and activities in their place.
Here are three strategies we can practice: 1) We can support our children’s natural compassionate behavior; 2) We can teach children what to do when they are angry; and 3) We can organize a “caring” project for our family. The following are some examples of these three strategies for preschoolers.
1) Children are naturally compassionate. When we see our little one do something nice, we need to recognize the value of their behavior. “I feel so proud of you when you help your little brother by picking up the toy he dropped. You are such a kind brother.”
2) Children can learn how to keep themselves in check when they identify their feelings. Many of us have strategies for keeping ourselves from saying something we didn’t mean to say. The first step is in identifying the feeling of anger and giving it a name. As we see or sense our young child becoming angry we can help him identify his feelings. “Tommy, tell daddy, ‘I’m angry. I want to play outside now!’” Of course, we are not going to reinforce anger by quickly taking Tommy outside. The best response is to use empathy, “I know you want to go outside right now. I’m sorry, we can’t do that, but I am very glad you could tell me. Tomorrow after breakfast we will go outside.” By doing this, we teach our children to talk about feelings such as anger without physically acting out our anger.
3) Children enjoy participating in projects with their family. Tommy can help packing a special box to mail to grandma that includes one of his toys or drawings. He can help shovel the walkway of your elderly neighbor. He can help carry a meal to a sick or grieving family. Any time children are included in altruistic activities, they learn how good it feels to do good.
I’m thankful for mama
I’m thankful for papa
I’m thankful for family
I’m thankful for me.
I’m thankful for my grandma
I’m thankful for my puppy
I’m thankful for my nice toys
I’m thankful for me.
This lovely little song is augmented with the use of sign language for the word thankful, mama, papa, family, and me.
In the second verse use children’s choices of what they are thankful for. Being thankful is a difficult concept for preschoolers. Using this song many times before Thanksgiving will help give meaning to this concept.