Raising Compassionate Kids

girl and kitten PAIDHow to raise kids who are kind and considerate is a hot topic these days. With so much bullying happening in the world, both in schools and via the Internet, it seems more important than ever to raise kids who can be thoughtful and empathetic towards other people.

Children have an inborn capacity for compassion. Although you can take steps to raise a compassionate child who is kind to others yet strong enough to stand up to hurtful words and actions when necessary, the most important thing to remember is that children may listen to what we say, but they model themselves on how we behave. This means that if you practice and demonstrate compassion (with yourself, your child and the other people in your world), your child is very likely to emulate that behavior.

Here are some ideas to help you integrate compassion into your everyday life in ways that you can share with your child:

Volunteer. Show your child that all people deserve kindness by serving together at a soup kitchen or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Let your child choose a volunteer activity that builds on interests they already have (for instance, the Humane Society if they love animals or reading aloud to the blind if they love to read).

***If you live in the Atlanta/Dunwoody area, check out The Packaged Good, where you and your kids can decorate and personalize care packages and create craft projects for people in need.

Get a pet or a small plot of dirt to cultivate. When a child is invested in the care of another living thing, they learn about nurturing themselves and others and are less likely to engage in bullying. And most pets and plants require time outdoors, so you’ll both get a good dose of fresh air!

Practice listening and allow feelings. I always tell parents that only a “hurting” child hurts others. When your child is hurting, instead of responses like “keep your chin up” or “big boys don’t cry,” invite your child to share his or her feelings. Particularly with younger children, hug them to provide soothing reassurance that it’s okay to experience and express feelings of distress. When you help them heal their hurts by allowing them to fully express their feelings, it will be easier for them to listen to others with an open and compassionate heart.

Limit time with video games and television showsespecially those with even mild violence. Numerous studies have shown that media violence promotes aggression and desensitizes kids to the consequences of violent behavior.

Experience a neighborhood or part of town (or even another country) very different from your own.  Try a restaurant in a different neighborhood or take in a festival where people have a different culture, language and music. Experiencing diversity shows a child that differences can be both interesting and fun!

Activities that promote compassion mean you’ll be bonding with your child in ways you can both feel good about. In addition, activities like volunteering or growing a garden serve another purpose–they remind both of you that you have something valuable to offer the world. Your child’s growing self-respect can help turn the tide of bullying and the devastating effect that this has on children’s lives.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

Choose one of the activities above and implement it this week. Then keep adding to your “active compassion” list as you become more and more intentional about modeling compassion and kindness.  Remember, your kids are watching you!

“We must become the people we want our children to be.”  Joseph Chilton Pearce

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

For when the fireworks are too close for comfort!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen at the park on the 4th of July. You parents of young children know what I’m talking about! I’m talking about the fireworks that happen when our children have their meltdowns, tantrums, upsets, you-name-it….especially in a public place! When it seems like the screaming and flailing about is just as loud and spectacular as any fireworks show you’ve seen.

These are the times that test our fortitude as parents and test our ability to dance in the gap of (1) our vision of how we want to parent and (2) how we actually do it during the daily grind. Hopefully, these 3 tips will help you bridge that gap in the midst of the familial pyrotechnics:

1. Stay calm
THE MOST HELPFUL thing you can do when your child is losing it is to stay calm yourself. If you lose it too and start yelling then all hope is lost. Your child needs you to guide her through the emotional storm. That’s hard to do if you’re lost in the storm yourself. So breathe and repeat a mantra to yourself that will help you stay calm…such as “I can do this in a calm loving way” or “This too shall pass.”
(You may have to come back to this mantra over and over again).

2. Get down close to your writhing child*
Yes, you read that correctly. Squat down, or even sit or lie down on the floor with your child (depending on where you are). Perhaps you just wouldn’t be comfortable lying in the grocery store aisle; but if you’re at home or the home of a friend, go for it!

Instead of isolating your child or letting the emotional tempest keep you at bay… go in, get close. As we say in the conflict resolution field: lean into the conflict. This will get easier the more you do it, and your calm close presence is likely to have a calming influence on your child when he starts to trust that you can be a safe container for his big emotions. With repetition, you may find this strategy alone lessens the intensity and decreases the time of a tantrum.

3. Offer understanding and empathy to your child
Your child is too young developmentally to be able to reason out of her intense emotions. That’s why all the perfect reasoning and logic in the world won’t help in those moments. Plus, we tend to use way too many words when our child is upset. (To be honest, when you are having intense emotions, do you want someone to give you reasons why you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or do you want someone to hear you and to understand the pain you’re in?)

Instead, offer your child two precious gifts: understanding and empathy.

Here are some phrases to try:

  • I know it’s hard when you really really want that cookie right now.
  • It’s hard to want something really bad and not be able to have it.
  • I know…sometimes I want things too that I just can’t have.
  • It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. I’m here with you.
  • You want to sit on my lap?
  • You want me to hold you while you cry?

Comments such as these give your child the message: “I know. I understand. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. I’m here to help you through it.

Understanding and empathy are not permissive parenting. You can set boundaries and limits and still be loving and supportive when they trigger intense emotions in your child. Just as you support your child with physical hurts, it’s just as important to support the emotional hurts.

Your capacity to stay loving and supportive during an upset helps your child to build resiliency and capacity to behave better in the future. Studies have shown that emotional responsiveness strengthens the integrative connections in the brain, helping to bring the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) back on-line quicker. As the brain integrates more and more over time, this allows your child to make better choices and to better control her body and emotions.

So there you have it. 3 tips to help you and your child get through the “other” kind of fireworks show. I invite you to start seeing every tantrum as an opportunity to instill this message in your child:

You are loved even when you’re at your worst.
(Don’t we all want that?!)
We’re a team and I’ve got your back!

*Special Note: Some children will not let you get near them when they are upset. (My son is this way; he really needs his space when he’s upset.) You can sit further away or in the doorway and keep letting him know you are there for him, at a distance, until he is ready to be comforted or to re-engage.

Are you seeing fireworks all year round?!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen on the 4th of July.  You parents of young children know what I’m talking about!  I’m talking about the fireworks that happen when our children have their meltdowns, tantrums, upsets, you-name-it….especially in a public place!  When it seems like the screaming and flailing about is just as loud and spectacular as any fireworks show you’ve seen.
[BTW…I saw a spectacular fireworks show last night featuring my 17-year-old and a broken cellphone!]
These are the times that test our fortitude as parents and test our ability to dance in the gap of (1) our vision of how we want to parent and (2) how we actually do it during the daily grind.  Hopefully, these 3 tips will help you bridge that gap in the midst of the familial pyrotechnics:
1.  Stay calm

THE MOST HELPFUL thing you can do when your child is losing it is to stay calm yourself.  If you lose it too then all hope is lost.  Your child needs you to guide her through the emotional storm.  That’s hard to do if you’re lost in the storm yourself.  So breathe and repeat a mantra to yourself that will help you stay calm…such as “I can do this in a calm loving way” or “This too shall pass.”

(You may have to come back to this mantra over and over again).
2.  Get down close to your writhing child*
Yes, you read that correctly.  Squat down, or even sit or lie down on the floor with your child (depending on where you are).  Perhaps you just wouldn’t be comfortable lying in the grocery store aisle; but if you’re at home or the home of a friend, go for it!
Instead of isolating your child or letting the emotional tempest keep you at bay… go in, get close.  As we say in the conflict resolution field:  lean into the conflict. This will get easier the more you do it, and your calm close presence is likely to have a calming influence on your child when he starts to trust that you can be a safe container for his big emotions.  With repetition, you may find this strategy alone lessens the intensity and decreases the time of a tantrum.
3.  Offer understanding and empathy to your child
Your child is too young developmentally to be able to reason out of her intense emotions.  That’s why all the perfect reasoning and logic in the world won’t help in those moments.  Plus, we tend to use way too many words when our child is upset.  (To be honest, when you are having intense emotions, do you want someone to give you reasons why you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or do you want someone to hear you and to understand the pain you’re in?)
Instead, offer your child two precious gifts:  understanding and empathy. 
Here are some phrases to try:

I know it’s hard when you really really want that cookie right now.  
It’s hard to want something really bad and not be able to have it. 
I know…sometimes I want things too that I just can’t have.
It’s okay to cry.  I know it hurts.  I’m here with you.  
You want to sit on my lap?
You want me to hold you while you cry?
Comments such as these give your child the message:  “I know.  I understand. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way.  I’m here to help you through it.”
Understanding and empathy are not permissive parenting.  Most likely, it’s your limits that are stimulating the tantrum in the first place.  You can set boundaries and limits and still be loving and supportive when they trigger intense emotions in your child.  Just as you support your child with physical hurts, it’s just as important to support the emotional hurts.
Your capacity to stay loving and supportive during an upset helps your child to build resiliency and capacity to behave better in the future.  Studies have shown that emotional responsiveness strengthens the integrative connections in the brain, helping to bring the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) back on-line quicker.  As the brain integrates more and more over time, this allows your child to make better choices and to better control her body and emotions.
So there you have it.  3 tips to help you and your child get through the “other” kind of fireworks show.  I invite you to start seeing every tantrum as an opportunity to instill this message in your child:

You are loved even when you’re at your worst.  
(Don’t we all want that?!) 
We’re a team and I’ve got your back! 
*Special Note:  Some children will not let you get near them when they are upset.  (My son is this way; he really needs his space when he’s upset.)  You can sit further away or in the doorway and keep letting him know you are there for him, at a distance, until he is ready to be comforted or to re-engage.