When my eldest daughter was five years old, we moved to Sydney for a year. Being a quiet, sensitive child, we were concerned that she may face challenges adjusting to her new school. It was indeed challenging.
She struggled to make friends as she was very uncomfortable with taking the first step to talk to others, and each day I would find her playing by herself at the playground.
This went on for a while, until a little girl, called Iris, went up to her, took her hand and just tugged her along and made my daughter her friend. It was one simple gesture – a little tug and it completely changed my daughter’s experience in Sydney and as a result, made our family’s stay there a wonderful one.
Being able to care can be a superpower. It can change the world for someone else, and in turn, have a huge impact on our shared lives.
How then do we nurture and raise our children to be caring?
Practise and encourage emotional literacy
In the world of technology, emotional literacy – the ability to recognise, understand and express emotions, is becoming more and more scarce and increasingly crucial.
Emotional literacy can only be nurtured with face to face human contact – without texts, emojis, or emails. In our world where texting has become a core communication method, the ability to tune in to the emotion of another person is becoming scarce.
Encourage children to speak with eye contact. Encourage them to reach out to someone they have never met – for e.g. you could ask them “What is the name of the child you just met in the playground earlier?”
Bring card games, bicycles and scooters to playdates – and have them enjoy the company of others without any technology. By doing so, we are encouraging children to form bonds with others while practising the ability to identify and empathise with others. And let’s do the same when we communicate with them – with eye contact and recognising emotions.
Research has shown that up to 65% of communication comes from body language and without emotional literacy, that is how much communication we will miss out on.
Out with Instagram, in with kindness and gratitude
Prioritising kindness and gratitude starts from home and it is not just about giving praise for a particular act of kindness that your child did, but we could aim for a more holistic embodiment of kindness and gratitude as our behaviour and identity.
⇒ Related Read: What Does It Mean to Be Kind?
When kindness and gratitude become part of how the child views themselves, they will automatically veer towards being caring and to have a strong awareness of those who need support around them.
Bring forth the understanding that their life is not about focusing on Instagram and selfies, and that the circle of real people around them matters. Start by bringing up topics of kindness – for example, “What did you do today that was kind?”, ask them about their highs and lows, what they are grateful for, etc.
They may even wish to keep a gratitude journal, and over time, the idea of kindness and being caring become a part of their every day and not just something they do in return for a word of praise from the parent.
Walk the talk
Children do not listen, they copy. We need to emphasise “we” and not “you” at home. Make caring a family activity, which means practising it as a mutual behaviour.
For our kids to grow up as a caring individual, we need to show that we care for them and others too. We can do this by practising mutual respect and empathy. This doesn’t mean that discipline is thrown out the door, instead it is about mutual recognition and understanding of feelings and emotions.
⇒ Related Read: How to Be a Better Parent: Building Good Character in Children
For children with siblings, the circle of “we” need to extend to include them. Practise daily acts of kindness that are simple but routine such as helping one another with chores, being considerate to one another, sharing their belongings and expressing thanks to one another.
As a parent, expecting assistance from one child with another child, and not as a chore, but as a daily routine action, will ingrain these acts of caring and kindness into them.
Why raising caring children is important
We all want our children to grow up happy. And it is the happiness that comes from within themselves, without any dependency on anyone or anything that counts for a huge part of an individual’s outlook in life.
When children are able to master emotional literacy, empathise and care for others, they are more likely to be in control of their own emotions and be able to work on building rapport and relationships with others. Being caring is one of the crucial building blocks in achieving a happy life.
Just like what Iris did for my daughter, it can make a positive impact on someone else for the rest of their lives. Our memories of our time in Sydney would not have been the same without the care that Iris bestowed on our daughter. Caring is a superpower that is able to make a difference.
By Hwang Siew Ling.
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