Mottos for Success

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind

By Amy Joyce, Washington Post, July 18, 2014

Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group.

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

1. Make caring for others a priority. Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.

How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.

Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”

• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.

• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude. Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.

How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.

Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.

• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.

• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern. Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.

How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.

Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.

• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.

• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor. Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”

How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.

Try this:
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.

• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings. Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.

How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.

Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.

What Faith Knows
by Maria Fountaine
No matter how dreadful, devastating, irreversible or hopeless things seem when you’re facing a major setback or even a life-threatening situation, the fact that you continue to actively trust in Jesus and refuse to let go of that abiding trust shows that you have great faith. Your faith is what pleases Him.

Faith isn’t all about you and your getting what you think is best. It’s all about Jesus and what He knows is best for you and others.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. We wouldn’t be hoping for something if we already had it in our hands. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. We wouldn’t need evidence that something is real if we could see it with our eyes.

When I look at some of the miracle-claiming men and women in the Bible, at a quick glance they seem to be so confident, so certain of the things they’re about to do. Next to such seemingly unwavering faith, we can start to feel a little wimpy and unsure of our own faith.

That’s because we’re seeing those miracles of the Bible through the perspective of hindsight. But try to put yourself in their shoes.

Consider how impossible the situation must have seemed for them at the time when they couldn’t see the outcome. Their perspective may have been very much like how you feel today when faced with something impossible. It can be encouraging to take a close look at their circumstances and what they were facing from their perspective.

For example, look at the three Hebrew men who were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace for not bowing down and worshipping the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. It might look like they were glowing with confidence in front of the head of the world empire, certain that nothing could happen to them in that fiery furnace. But could it be that they also battled fear and the uncertainty of what would happen?

It’s true that their friend, Daniel, held a great deal of power and influence, and he might have been able to stand up for them and rescue them from their fate, but he was away on a trip to another part of the empire. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were on their own, standing up for what they knew was right, and there they were, bound and forced to kneel before a king who saw himself as God, surrounded by the king’s jealous counselors for whom the presence of these Hebrews in the king’s court was a threat to their power. Those angry counselors had probably been instrumental in whipping up the king’s fury against the three Hebrew men.

Beneath the bold declaration of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that they would trust in God no matter what happened, they were just human and prone to the same fears that any one of us facing such a painful and horrifying fate would experience. Imagine the harrowing struggles they must have faced at the prospect of that raging furnace and the impossibility of any alternatives but to either bow to the image or face the torturous flames.

Faith isn’t the absence of fear; faith is what overcomes fear. My guess is that they dreaded with everything in them what was about to happen, but they still knew what they had to do. Their faith didn’t seem to be based on any assumption that their bodies would miraculously be impervious to the heat and fire. At least, that’s not what their words in the Bible indicate.

They said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the golden image which you have set up.”

They didn’t know what would happen, but they had faith that God was in control. Their faith was in the fact that no matter what, they knew God had a plan and they trusted Him to take care of them as He saw fit. They weren’t setting conditions according to what seemed best to them. They didn’t tell the king that their bodies couldn’t be burned. They knew God could do anything, but they weren’t basing their faith on God necessarily keeping them from burning up in the furnace.

Their faith was in God’s love and power, not in the results they thought would be best. Try to put yourself in the place of those who have faced impossibilities like this. What would your thoughts be? What would your fears be?

You know that God will ultimately make things right in the next life, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the struggles of possibly facing very painful experiences or death. At this moment in time it’s not the next life that you are having to deal with, it’s the present.

Let’s take a look at Moses. There he was at the Red Sea, facing what looked like the certain extinction of himself and the Hebrew people. Behind him, only temporarily blocked by that pillar of smoke by day and fire by night, was an army of men who had not only suffered terribly through plagues because of him, but many had also lost parents or children or siblings to the final plague.

Those soldiers weren’t just following the Pharaoh’s orders. I imagine they wanted revenge and were bent on making these fleeing slaves suffer in the worst possible ways for what their God had done to the Egyptian people. I expect that Moses and the children of Israel were well aware of that.

Imagine the fear that may have threatened both Moses and those with him. It might have looked like their God had left them pinned down with no way of escape. Imagine the doubts that could have assailed Moses. While they had managed to leave the Egyptians behind for a while, he could have been hit with fear that he might have gotten it wrong somehow, and it could have appeared as if the men, women, and children who had followed him were going to be killed.

I don’t think that there was any doubt that Moses was desperately seeking God’s guidance; however, even when God told him what to do, it must have seemed impossible. Who had ever heard of the sea separating so people could walk through the middle of it? Moses just had to follow instructions, step by step, trusting that somehow God would come through for them.

When the sea parted and the people had to run into the now dry seabed, I imagine it would have been a pretty terrifying thing to do—a multitude of people scrambling down and down with the walls of water rising higher and higher on both sides.

If you had wanted to escape, where could you go? In the distance behind you, you could see the dark outline of that ominous army, starting to make its way after you onto the same seabed you were hurrying across. How long would it be before they caught up with you?

Moses just had to trust that no matter how bad things looked, no matter how impossible it seemed for them to make it to safety, they were in God’s hands come what may.

Jesus, the ultimate example of trusting His Father even unto death, still faced the fears. The Bible says He went through such struggles in the garden of Gethsemane that He sweat drops of blood! Faith isn’t the absence of fear, but the overcoming of fear with the truth. To overcome fear, you have to face it.

It can be pretty scary when you’re in a bad situation and you can’t see any natural way out of the dilemma. But that’s when faith that is built on Jesus, rather than on what you think has to happen, really comes to the fore. You just have to keep believing and trusting, no matter what things look like, as did Shadrach and his friends.

You have to keep walking on the solid ground of what God has told you to do in spite of dire circumstances, like Moses, knowing that no matter how hopeless it looks or how bad things get, Jesus has you in His arms.

I don't know what the future holds, but I know the one who does.

You may feel afraid of what you’re facing. You may not see anything you can do to fix the situation you’re in. But God’s intervention in your life isn’t based on your self-confidence. It’s based on your belief in Him and your trust in His unlimited power, goodness, and love.

You don’t have to believe that what you want to happen will always happen. You just have to believe that God can bring about what is best in His time and His way, if not in this life, then in the life to come, because you trust Him.

Faith knows what is most important to know: God will never leave nor forsake you.

None of us know what lies ahead. We often can’t know if that setback we’re facing or the things we’re suffering will be gone in a minute or a month, or if they will last a lifetime. Our faith can’t be built on expected results that make sense to us. What faith knows is that Jesus will not leave us comfortless; He’ll be there walking with us through the fire, as He was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We’ll make it through whether by His supernatural care or by arriving in heaven at the end of our life, but either way, we can’t lose.

Believe Him and expect the best; it’s worth waiting for.

Jesus loves it when we look at the waves and the winds of adversity and do like Peter did with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Bid me come out to you on the water.” He was ready to jump right into the challenges because he’d seen God’s power in Jesus and was ready to put himself into those hands that he trusted would never fail him.

What are the challenges that you’re facing? What impossible situations are looming big in your life? Will you step out on the waters to meet Jesus right now so that His power can be manifested in your life? Take the step of faith, and even if you feel that momentary sinking feeling at times, you only have to call out to Him and He’ll bring you through in His perfect time and way.