Our 15-month-old is now at a stage where disciplining is necessary. Random ‘I don’t want to sleep’ tantrums in the middle of the night and repetitive climbing of the sofa, then windowsill, just to launch himself off are becoming the norm.
And I know it’s just the beginning.
The thing is, he can’t talk yet so there’s no reasoning with him. We try – he understands ‘no’ and that mummy is using her stern voice, but only to a point. He’ll stop for a minute, smile, then continue merrily doing whatever he was doing.
Coinciding with this ‘testing mummy and daddy out’ behaviour is the fact that daily playground visits are now the norm. He runs up to other kids, gets close and waves with a smile on his face – it’s his way of saying “hey”. The other kids are usually older as he was an early walker.
They tend to yell about not wanting to share their particular piece of play equipment, look at him like he’s odd, run away or, like one particular child, hit him straight in the face! He looks genuinely hurt by this, because he’s very caring and approaches everyone equally. He has such a good nature and, I guess somewhat naively, I never want that to change.
So, these recent events have got me thinking about how we best raise him to continue to be caring.
How do we nurture his good nature, instill decent values, and enforce what’s right and what’s wrong?
How do I ensure he’s not the one hitting the 15-month-old in the face in the playground when he’s three or four?
Researchers at Harvard University have found that the seeds of empathy, caring, and compassion are present from early in life, but that to become caring, ethical people, children need adults to help them nurture these skills at every stage of childhood.
Not only should we work with our children to encourage them to care for others because it’s the right thing to do, but also because when children can empathise with others they are more likely to be happier and successful in life.
They’ve released their top tips for molding our children into the morally upstanding individuals we want them to be:
1. Love them.
Regular time together and meaningful interaction and conversations. Try asking them about their day and what nice thing they might have done for someone.
2. Being a strong moral role model.
"Walking the talk" and mentoring them through our actions. They observe us all the time so we need to lead by example. Children will only want to become like us if they trust and respect us
3. Prioritising caring for others.
Making sure they know that caring about others is just as important as their own happiness. Before letting them quit a sports team or friendship, ask them to consider the impact that might have on others and encourage them to work through any problems.
4. Being grateful.
The researchers say that learning to be grateful and caring is a bit like learning to play a sport – it requires daily repetition. Helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house or routinely reflecting on what we appreciate about others can help make caring and gratitude second nature.
5. Think big picture.
Show your kids the bigger picture and that it’s important to not only care about their small group of family and friends but also people who are outside their circles. Teach them be good listeners by encouraging them to put themselves in other peoples’ shoes.
6. Ethical thinkers.
Encourage them to take action against problems that affect them, for example cyberbulllying.
7. Managing feelings.
Together, practice taking deep breaths and exercising self-control, working through how to resolve conflicts and setting clear boundaries.
The study ends with some words of wisdom for all parents out there:
“Raising a caring, respectful, ethical child is and always has been hard work. But it’s something all of us can do. And no work is more important or ultimately more rewarding.”
How do you raise your child to be caring?