BABY STEPS When was the last time you made an effort to teach empathy or kindness to your child? Sudha Subramanian says it’s about time parents got their act together.
Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd runs a programme called Making Caring Common. You may wonder why anybody would want to run such a programme. Is caring not something we teach our kids? I am not sure. I cannot remember the last time I made an effort to teach my child about helping others.
A recent study suggested that parents are happy only if their kids are high achievers. We are all too wired and focused about our children getting top grades and excelling in activities. We don’t pay any attention to whether our kids are kind or not. We don’t take that extra effort to teach our children empathy or encourage them to do any community service. Which means our kids may become high achievers in terms of grades, but may not have much to show by way of being a caring human being. And this brings us to the big question – are we raising mean kids?
When was the last time we articulated our pride to our kids when they were involved in an act of kindness? We don’t go around talking about our child’s kindness or empathy like we do if s/he were to win a trophy. Yes. We want our children to be compassionate. But, surely, we don’t value that attribute more than their grades.
Also, there is a more intrinsic problem. We all lead such busy lives that we don’t have the time to be the best role models for our children. We are too absorbed in our lives. Children seldom see any acts of kindness from us. In our pursuit of satiating our wants and needs, we have forgotten the bigger picture. We neither teach empathy nor do we encourage
children to help others. It is just too much of a hassle.
Not to forget the all-pervasive competitive environment that we live in. We seldom value what our children are good at. We wonder why they are not as good as the other kids. We encourage jealousy and hatred. We simply don’t teach our children sportsmanship. We, as parents, have become so competitive that we don’t celebrate others’ victory. We don’t teach our kids to be happy for their friends.
Instead, we pit them against each other and totally kill their camaraderie.
Good to care
We live in a world that lacks kindness. For kids and adults alike, caring for others will decrease bullying and foster friendships. We have become very intolerant and our lives revolve around instant gratification. In such a scenario, practising empathy can go a long way in healing a troubled world. Parents can play a huge part in helping children become kind human beings. Our kids need to hear a lot more from us about why we prioritise acts of kindness. For example, we should not tell our kids to ‘mind their own business’ when their friend is being bullied.
Instead, we could ask our child to stand up for his/her friend. In fact, according to the Harvard psychologist, we should stop telling kids that “the top priority is for you to be happy”. Instead, we should start telling our kids that “the top priority is that you are kind”. When we bring in such a paradigm shift in our approach, children will see how important it is for them to be kind. They will begin to value others before their own happiness. By stressing on our child’s happiness, we are, in fact, making our kids very selfish and narcissists.
In a bid to increase our understanding about compassion and appreciation, parents have the onus of setting good examples. It is never too late to learn to be kind and nice. We may be soccer moms, but we should also appreciate what other children are good at. By appreciating other kids, we help our kids see the goodness in others; we take away the pressure on our kids to perform perennially. Kids can be competitive, but we should also help them accept defeat gracefully. Winning is not always everything. We learn from defeats. Appreciating others’ achievement does not belittle our child. We just offer an opportunity for our child to see the goodness that is out there.
Kindness is not some science that we can teach. It has to be learnt by observation and practice. We may say ‘be nice’, but kids don’t know what it means, unless they see it in action. We cannot lecture them and hope that they will turn out fine. For that, we have to start in a small way – by being kind to people around us. The world needs a lot of goodness and taking care. A small act of kindness can go a long way. Let us take those baby steps.