I grew up in an extended family home and so had the privilege of multiple parent influences. My aunts and uncle all wanted the same thing for me – that I grow up to be a successful adult. My grandmother was less preoccupied with ambition and focused instead on ensuring we were always kind to each other and shared what we had with other children who had less. She knew what she was doing. She was raising thoughtful and caring children.
I fondly remember how she would share whatever goodies she had with all of us and, no matter how small, we would all have a piece of goodness. I watched people come to her with their booklists or stories of not having any food or money and leave with a little smile as Grandma would find something to give them. I owe my sense of empathy and gratitude to my grandmother.
I consistently hear today's parents complain of their children being entitled and even blame themselves for causing it. As parents we all try our best to provide lives for our children better than the ones we had. As well-meaning parents, we do all we can to ensure that our children are healthy and happy and so they are given opportunities we never had. They go to ballet, music, tennis, swimming lessons and we make certain they have the latest electronics to keep up with the world. Sometimes, we get frustrated as these children just seem to always want more rather than being satisfied with what we provide. The “I want it now” attitude, not helping around the house and being unkind to friends who have less are major cause for concern. As parents, we must balance providing the very best for our children with the consciousness that we are not raising them to believe the world revolves around them.
How do we ensure that while we provide them the very best, that we are also raising them to be grateful, thoughtful, and compassionate?
Teach them empathy
A student once shared that he chose to study theatre because his grandmother always told him when he was being disagreeable with someone to “put himself in the other person's shoes'. This very simple statement said so much about how he was raised. His simple answer said so much about him. Immediately, I understood why he was such a good student leader, an active participant in the college community and very kind to his peers. The best way to teach a child empathy is to show them. Demonstrate that you care about how they feel by listening and offering comfort when they are sad. Empathy is really honouring a person's feelings and as you demonstrate empathy, your child will do the same at home and abroad.
Teach them to be patient
One of the things I love about children is their ability to live in the moment, but this positive trait sometimes manifests in an insistence on having everything NOW. Teaching patience is a lesson in patience for you, the parent, as well as the child. I smile at the memory of my daughter asking “are we there yet” on a trip to Ocho Rios. Rather than snapping at her in frustration, I thought let me use this opportunity to teach her how to wait and so I drew her attention to the digital clock on the dashboard and it became a game for her along the way and she learnt more about reading the time too! I also started sharing the names of places we were passing and pointed out the farms and animals along the countryside. She stopped asking and instead became preoccupied with the clock and the scenes around her.
Teach them gratitude
Gratitude is a must. Taking the time to teach children to value the things they have and the people who are around them is a lesson in gratitude. We learnt the magic words “please” and “thank you” growing up and it is an important lesson to pass on. Insist that your children say thank you in prayers when they wake in the mornings and model courteous behaviour throughout the days. Another way of teaching gratitude is to encourage children to volunteer around their community whether at home or school.
Teach them responsibility
Finally, teach your children responsibility. Give them chores around the house, encourage participation in extracurricular activities at school and hold them accountable for their choices and actions. I have had to put my foot down a few times when my children try to 'back out' of commitments simply because they can't bother and share with them the importance of keeping their word, especially when they are a part of a team. Of course, nothing beats modelling and so while you teach them how to be responsible, be sure to show them how as well.
Fostering positive attitudes takes conscious parenting and we must remember that our ultimate charge as parents is to ensure that our children grow into kind, responsible and socially conscious adults.
Coleen Antoinette is a single mother of two girls, and a lover of culture and people. She is an arts marketing specialist and educator. You may share your thoughts or own experiences with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.