By Marli Naidoo
All of us have taken selfies. It’s fun to, without the help of an outsider, be able to take pictures of you and your friends. Some children however take an endless amount of selfies, which they then place on social media, and wait for the “likes” to pour in. The selfie craze is only one of the consequences of a modern tendency to be self-absorbed. In the past 18 years a total cultural shift has taken place to hyper-individualism. We focus increasingly on ourselves, and are inclined to be highly competitive. Empathic behaviour has declined by 40%, which points to a decrease in compassion as well as a sense of community.
How can we help our children to shift this focus on self outward? Fortunately, empathy is a skill that can be acquired. You can teach your children from an early age to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and imagine how that person feels. Keep on teaching and modelling until your children are grown up and leave the home.
In an era where children mostly type messages, it can be difficult for them to read facial expressions and voice intonations. Help them to learn to understand their own emotions and those of others by spending enough time without cell phones. Eat together as a family, and use this time to make eye contact and talk to one another.
Make a poster on which you declare what you as a family stand for. Everyone is expected to be friendly, care about others, and be socially responsible. This declaration applies to the parents as well.
Focus on others. Ask regularly, “How do you think that person feels?” You can ask this when someone in a tv programme goes through a difficult time, or when your child has had a falling out with his sibling. You can also ask, “What will make this person feel better?” Ask these questions frequently, and empathy will take root.
Read books in which the characters go through moral dilemmas, and use it to teach empathy.
Help your child to control his emotions by applying self-regulation. When we feel stressed, our urge for survival can take over, which switches off empathy. Teach your child from an early age to breathe deeply and in so doing remain more emotionally aware, regardless of stressful situations.
Practise giving. You can encourage your children to perform two good deeds every day to show that they care. It can be anything. Smile at someone who looks unhappy, or open the door for your teacher. Let them then come and tell you what they did for others that day.
Teach your child about team work, instead of competition. Competition is about self, while team work cultivates co-workers and problem-solvers.
Set a good example. Ask yourself on a weekly basis, “What did I do this week to show my children that I care for others? How do I help my child to become kind-hearted?” Take soup to a sick friend, donate blankets to a charity, offer lessons in certain skills (free), or visit that lonely pensioner living just around the corner. Let your child accompany you when you go to perform these charitable deeds.
Read positive news together, so that our children can see there is still a lot of beauty in this world, and realise that they can also be part thereof. They can make a difference by being a light in the dark, through charity, deeds of kindness, and pursuing their dreams passionately.
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empaths-survival-guide/201705/is-your-child-empath-tips-raising-empathic-children
Michele Borba: http://micheleborba.com/michele-borba-blog-how-to-raise-kind-hearted-kids-and-make-valentines-day-a-365-day-affair/