Have you ever watched a child express sensitivity, compassion or generosity you wouldn’t have associated with their age? Chances are the child wasn’t just born that way. Those traits were instilled in him or her from an early age.
If you’re looking to raise a kind child, you want to take these tips to heart:
- Teach your child gratitude. Even at 18 months, children can start learning to say “tanchu” when someone gives them something or does them a favour. Make it a habit. When they forget or get carried away, always ask, “Have you said thank you to aunty/uncle?” It may take a while but if you’re consistent it will definitely stick. Also, thanking them when they give you something helps. There’s nothing quite like teaching by example.
- Don’t buy them everything they want. Human wants are insatiable, and you don’t want to raise an entitled child. It’s your duty as a parent to curb material greed in your children, and early too. Otherwise, they will grow up slaves to instant gratification and consumerism, judging others by what they have or don’t have.
- Don’t equate “stuff” with love and affection. That other children’s parents are getting them cell phones or iPads and you’re not doesn’t mean you love your children less. Train them to understand this early on.
- Resist the urge to overcompensate for your own childhood suffering. If you grew up poor, the desire to compensate for past deprivations is understandable. However, bear in mind that over-indulging your child will often backfire, so embrace moderation.
- Teach them respect for all. Teach your child that all human beings are created equal regardless of their race, religion, education or status. Don’t permit them to discriminate against anyone. As a parent, you also want to model this. How do you treat your domestic help? What statements do you make about people from other ethnic groups? Children are little sponges and they soak things up faster than you can imagine. They will do what they see you do.
- Limit TV viewing. There are only a few cartoons that really teach the values you want to instil in your child. Furthermore, a child who is plunked in front of the TV for most of the day is at risk of becoming self-absorbed and oblivious to the real world. In addition, the oju kokoro that the strategically placed TV adverts can cause is legendary. Suddenly your child wants this, wants that, wants that and wants that! Read tip number 2 above again.
- Train them to empathise. Childhood is the best time to learn how to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. Teach your children to treat others the way they want to be treated, and even when they’re not directly affected, they can learn to ask the question, “How would I feel if that were me?” This will teach them empathy.
- Raise their awareness. I’m currently reading a Hillary Clinton biography, A Woman in Charge, and I couldn’t help being struck by the fact that until she was transferred to a racially mixed and ethnically diverse school, Hillary was relatively untouched by reality. Her best friend Betsy Ebeling said, “We were ignorant…until we went into the city and saw that people did not live in houses like ours.” It was a turning point in Hilary’s life. I’m not suggesting you change your child’s school just so they can interact with the less privileged. There are many other ways to raise a child’s awareness of the world outside their comfy home-school-church/mosque triangle, like taking them to visit an orphanage, getting them involved in projects for the needy, etc.
Parenting is not easy. You are responsible for moulding this little person into a responsible, caring member of society. However, if you take care to do the right thing yourself, your task will be considerably easier.