“Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.” ~ L.R. Knost
Many times we hear parents tell their child “say thank you”, or “say sorry,” to which the child will parrot the words back; but if they don’t understand the actual emotions behind the words, then it loses it’s meaning without actually getting ingrained in the child.
How can we teach gratitude and sympathy to children, instead of having them parrot meaningless words back to us or others?
One way to teach children (and in my opinion, the most effective way), is to engage them in conversations that will get them thinking on their own. Parroting will produce a child who may hit, and then know to say sorry; but teaching children about the reasons and emotions behind these words will nurture in your child a growing consciousness, rather than a dictionary of words to use as instant responses.
Another way to teach children about these important things is to show them the world outside your door, and be ready to answer the many questions that will surely come.
Again, this gives your child a chance to explore reasons and emotions behind things, and also shows them the many kinds of people that inhabit the world with them. In order to teach your child acceptance and sympathy for others you must be able to show them this attitude in an environment that is outside their immediate world.
And lastly, to make a lasting impression, you must be ready to be the role model for them, This does not mean you are perfect around your children, as no one is, but to be ready to live these attitudes in a real and authentic way.
Here are some practical ways you can implement these ideas in your daily life:
Give them a chance to think
– Have you ever asked a child what they are grateful for? Parents often tell children what they should be grateful for, but rarely ask the child what they feel about it. Ask your child what blessings they would put on their “count your blessings” list.
– Have a conversation with them about “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” Questions like “What makes you feel better when you’ve been hurt?” or, “What words make you feel good?” show children that their small words have an impact on others.
– Instead of teaching them the words they should use, teach them about the emotions behind the words, and they will pick up on the words on their own. Children will very often go past the empty words and also learn that hugging, supportive words, and treating people with respect, are just as important as “please” and “thank you.”
– The same way it is helpful for us to wake up and express gratefulness for our everyday miracles, so it is for children as well. Start up a conversation about gratefulness at breakfast in the morning, and see what your children express.
Give your children the language to express the things that they are happy about, and then later what they are grateful for.
Give them the opportunity to experience and question different environment
– Another way to help children think about gratefulness and sympathy is to give them the opportunity to be involved in community and charity work. This gives children the chance to see the world past their own four walls, and also have a sense of helping others.
This shows children the benefits of being selfless and connected to others. When presented in the right way, this can be a very important experience for children to ask questions about other people’s lives, and what it means to be there for other people.
– Don’t avoid your child’s curious questions when you are out in the world together.
Questions such as: “What’s that lady doing?”, “Why does that person look different than me?”, “Why are those two men holding hands?,” or “Why does than boy have so many tattoos?”, are all opportunities to talk honestly with your child about the many kind of people and lifestyles. This opens them up to acceptance for others.
Lead by example
– If you follow a prayer ritual, give your children the chance to join in or ask questions about your personal experience. Instead of saying “I’m praying” or “I’m doing yoga,” explain to them that you are expressing thanks for the blessings in your life, or treating your body with love because you are grateful to have a beautiful functioning body.
The same is true for any other rituals that you follow. Do not force them on your children, but be there to explain the beauty behind yours and other’s rituals.
– Make sure to express to your children the same attitude you are expecting from them. Learn to say sorry to your children if you have done something wrong, and thankful when they have done something good for you.
Children follow by example, so make sure that you are not above these important words when it comes to interactions with your children, as these are the biggest learning experiences they will have.
– Avoid gossip or judgmental talk around your children. The things you say around your children are immediately soaked up by their molding minds.
– Practice speaking an enlightened language. Whether you say “I am so blessed,” or thank the sun and trees for their warmth and shade, your children learn a beautiful language that will later permeate their own speech.
I hope this gives you much insight, and sparks many interesting learning experiences for you and your loved ones.