Harvard University education researchers have been investigating how children learn about empathy and caring for others.
Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones surveyed over 10,000 middle school and high school students about their values through their Make Caring Common project
They found that only 20 percent of the kids put caring for others as a top priority, with most students choosing achievement or personal happiness as their number one priority.
The students who chose achievement and happiness said their parents and teachers also encouraged these values.
But learning to be caring and empathetic from an early age has better long-term implications for both the individual and society.
According to the project, "when children can empathise with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful. They’ll have better relationships their entire lives, and strong relationships are a key ingredient of happiness."
"In today’s workplace, success often depends on collaborating effectively with others, and children who are empathic and socially aware are also better collaborators.”
In order to help parents teach kids about empathy and caring for others, the researchers have compiled a set of guidelines. Here are some tips to help your child learn about being a kind and empathetic person.
1. Empathise with your kids and nurture your personal relationship with them
When kids are treated with care and respect, they are more likely to treat others well.
Listen to your child, acknowledge their feelings, and spend one-on-one time together.
2. Be a good role model
There's no point in lecturing your child about being kind to others unless you practice it yourself. Once your children see you being kind to other people, they are more likely to follow suit.
Kids are always watching to see how we behave, so take the opportunity to help someone out when you can. It could be something as simple as offering your elderly neighbour a lift to the shop.
Naturally, we can't be perfect all the time, but we can set a good example at home or in public.
3. Make caring for others a priority, and set ethical expectations for your kids
Consider the messages you send to your children. Their happiness is very important, but so is that of those around them.
Remind them that, sometimes, they have to contribute to others' happiness to help them; examples of this include giving up TV time to help clean the house, or walking the dog.
When you talk to your child's teachers and coaches, ask them about your child's attitude towards others so you can gauge whether they practice caring in their daily interactions.
4. Expand your child's circle of concern
It's easy for us to have empathy for friends and family members who we depend on, and your child will find it easy to empathise with the people in their immediate circle.
It's important for your child to realise there are other people outside of this circle who deserve their empathy, such as a child who gets left out at school.
Talk to your child about how others feel, and provide them with a fresh perspective. Say, "How would you feel if...?" and encourage them to put themselves in other people's shoes.
5. Help your children to express their feelings and develop self-control
Sometimes, your child may not display empathy towards others, but it's not because they don't experience it. Often, the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by other negative feelings, such as shame, anger and envy.
Helping children manage these negative feelings as well as stereotypes and prejudices is often what “releases” their empathy.
Try talking about feelings and naming them; this can encourage your child to open up. Teach them that it is important to manage their feelings effectively, and not to take them out on others.
If your child has a conflict with someone, or witnessed one; talk to them about how parties feel and how to understand other people's feelings.