We know hugs and kisses start at home, but so does respect, empathy and compassion. But how can you teach kids about love?
Teaching your child empathy and love can be a lifelong lesson, but it’s best to introduce them to these virtues when they’re young. “Don’t underestimate kids’ ability to understand concepts of love, respect and compassion, even at a very young age,” says parenting expert, Dr. John Duffy, and author of the best-selling book, The Available Parent. “Young kids tend to be exceptionally, and organically compassionate, kind, and emotionally intelligent.” Using recent, real-life examples are the most effective with little ones. At their school if you and your child see two kids ignoring another child, say, “What do you think it was like for that boy to be left out?”, or “How do you think she felt being pushed down?” Putting them in other people’s shoes allows them to think of others and not just themselves.
SET AN EXAMPLE
“Parents exert the strongest impact on children's morals, character and belief system, so it’s critical that these lessons come from them,” says Dr.Duffy. Respectful exchanges between both parents or even something like Dad helping someone up a set of stairs are instances where your child sees how you treat other people. These small "lessons" can make the largest impact. But all parents need a support system, so entrusting your child to teachers, coaches and other adults that support these values can also help.
CREATE TEACHABLE MOMENTS
To help a young child understand new emotions, create a "feelings" vocabulary. Help him understand what each feeling represents so he knows the best way to act. Try brainstorming possible solutions to situations. For example, if they see someone in the street that needs assistance, what are some actions that could help? With tweens or teenagers, obviously parents can have more sophisticated discussions, even debates such as, “When is it ok to be mean?”
More direct teaching can come from volunteering at a local soup kitchen or senior’s home. “This type of interaction will bring the lesson of compassion, respect and love home quickly,” says Dr.Duffy.
DON'T OVERDO IT
Recognize when your child is being kind, respectful and loving. Call attention to it and give them praise. Just be careful that you don’t start lavishing praise on them for ordinary responses, like saying "Thank you" after being given a present. It’s distracting and starts putting the focus on them, as opposed to the other person’s needs or feelings. However, if you see Susie coming up with ways for someone on the sidelines to be included, be sure to give an accolade or two.