5 Ways To Raise Nice Kids

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

By Amy Joyce July 18, 2014
5 strategies to raise moral, kind children

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, and the Making Caring Common Project have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. (The Washington Post)
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. (Chat with Weissbourd here.)

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.

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25 Cool Things Kids Can Learn Online (for Free!)

Links, videos, and instructions for really fun family projects.

With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy. At Common Sense Media, we’re partial to activities that are a little, well, different. We’ve rounded up 25 unique things you and your kids can learn online (for free!) by a) watching a video, b) following instructions, or c) reading about a subject.

Note: Many videos include an advertisement at the beginning, and some websites might link off to other topics or sites that might not be appropriate for your kids. We suggest previewing or watching along with your kids.

To Hover or Hope – Tough Calls in a World of Risk

Are we raising “soft kids”?

Published on January 14, 2013 by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. in Our Gender, Ourselves

By today’s standards, social services should have taken most us baby boomers away from our parents.

We were raised in a world of lawn darts, BB guns and second-hand smoke; without car seats, airbags or bicycle helmets. We gobbled sugar, swilled fats and consumed mushy white bread with the nutrients pounded out in processing.  We roamed our world freely, gone for hours, told only to be home when the streetlights come on. As a friend said: “I’m pretty sure my parents were trying to kill me.”

Yet: here we are. Aside from a few mended bones and some fading scars from stitches, most of us are little the worse for wear from growing up in a world before dodge ball became organized bullying.

Helmets, car seats and smoke-free homes are the logical outcomes of a smarter society. But for parents today: has common-sense protection crossed a divide to irrational obsession with driving risk from young lives?

That question, of course, must be asked in the chilling context of a very different world.  In the most normal of places on the most normal of days, 20 children went happily off to school in Newtown, Connecticut. They did not come home.

Threats are real. Fears are justified. And the instinct to protect our children is one of the crossbeams in our human architecture. But are those realities combining  to cause us to raise kids so emotionally and physically bubble-wrapped that they are paying a cost in confidence and, ironically, the well-being that we are working so hard to create? Have we lost our sense of the difference between risk’s reality and its mere possibility?

They are questions without easy answers.

A recent study from Norway concluded that playgrounds have become so low, slow and bouncy that kids have lost interest – to the point that there is a causal connection to childhood obesity. Is a slide still a slide if you don’t go flying off the end?

It’s yet another easy addition to the catalog of evidence that “we’re raising soft kids.”

It becomes less easy when you also consider CDC reports that, every year, 200,000 kids under age 14 suffer playground injuries serious enough to send them to the emergency room. A third of them are severe – fractures, concussions, internal injuries and dislocations. Approximately 15 of these injured children die.

How many of those casualties are worth a trade-off in a more formative playground experience?

Reaction to risk plays out everywhere parents gather with children to play. When a child falls, some will race to them like a lifeguard to a drowning swimmer. Others will watch, allowing the drama to play out, allowing the child to find his or her own resolution.

I’ve seen that choice – especially in emotional risk — from an interesting perspective in my work with single and two-mother families; where mothers know that their children start the day outside the norm.

As one lesbian mother told me: “At first, I would charge in to school to do battle every time there was a hint that my child was being taunted or bullied because of the makeup of our family. But I realized, I can’t be doing this when he’s 20 years old. So I started to think more about how to help him deal with it himself. I tried to give him the confidence and perspective to make the decision about when to walk away, when to laugh, and when to push back. He’s very funny, so that was his way in. The fact that he had two mothers became a non-issue. It would have taken a lot longer for kids to get him if they always had to get past me.”

So what’s a parent to do: try to banish risk, or learn to accept it?  Most of us in the mental health field suggest a mix of both. The question is whether a given situation carries a high risk of physical or emotional harm; or whether it is a bump – figuratively or literally – that is part of the invaluable life lessons that come from the  pain of hitting the ground hard, and the thrill of getting back up.

Like anything else in the complex and situational world of protecting the most precious thing the universe has ever created, distinguishing between the two may take a little practice.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University and author of two books about modern families and the children they produce. Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy atwww.peggydrexler.com

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

 

By Andy Braner, President/CEO of KIVU

So many of my friends with teenagers complain about the one-word answers they get when they attempt to communicate. They find it incredibly difficult to cultivate meaningful conversations with the very people who live under their roofs. I’ve heard hundreds of parent/teen conversations that sound something like this:

“Hey Honey, How was school?”
“Fine.”
“Did you have a chance to do your homework?”
“Yea.”
“What did you think about the movie you went to last night?”
“Good.”

And those of us with teenagers understand how complex it is to crack open a conversation with our teens. It seems like just yesterday they were running through the house longing for our attention, and then one day they woke up and turned into the one-word Zombie clan. I know several parents who ask themselves, “Why should I even try?”

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson about talking with my kids. I have to approach their world where they are.

So often, I counsel frustrated parents who feel “Well, he should do this,” or “she should do that.” We all quickly forget that NOBODY wants to have someone tell them what to do. Why should our teenagers feel any different?

A long-time mentor friend of mine said once, “if you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

So… I started to work this out in real time.

When my youngest son was growing through elementary school, I noticed he had a gift for engineering. He loved building things. Blocks, Forts and especially LEGOS were his passion. He loved doing math, following instructions and watching his creation emerge from the box of 1,000 pieces.

Can you imagine?

What do you do when you have a 5-year-old who can sit for hours on the kitchen floor putting together the Death Star Lego set with 5,000 pieces? If you have a kid like this, let me be an encourager for a minute and say you have a kid with a gift.

I remember hearing my mentor’s words echo in the stillness of my own desire to connect with my son: “If you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

Now, for a little background, I graduated with a degree in Theater Performance. I’m an artist. One thing you must know about artists — we don’t do Legos! Our brain functions differently. Sitting down to count the number of nipples on a block to make sure it fits in another is the farthest thing from what I think is a good time. But for the sake of my son, I started sitting amongst his piles of Legos with him.

For years, I forced myself to sit and learn to be interested in what he was interested in, and guess what? Today we have an incredible friendship. All those hours I spent meeting my son where he was and trying to be interested in the things he found valuable are paying off now. Sure, we have our fights. I have to correct, mentor and parent him. But for the most part, we’re good friends. He knows I love him and value his opinion. I know better how his mind functions and what makes him tick. He knows I’m in his corner and am his biggest cheerleader and I know he respects what I think. This is the bottom line of what it means to develop meaningful connections in families, with friends and certainly with people we work with.

If you’re having trouble connecting with your teen today, step back, take a deep breath, begin to notice the things they find valuable and start to engage.

You’re never going to understand the heart of your student by just letting them “figure life out.” After all, we’re parents, right? It’s our job, our duty and our incredible responsibility to teach, to train and to mentor our teens so they can go on to have long-term healthy relationships. If you can model for your teen what it means to connect, they will take this lesson with them wherever life unfolds.

Be encouraged today.

There are answers to helping parents connect with their kids, even when it seems like you don’t.

Follow Andy Braner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/braner

 

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

Posted: 11/21/2012 12:36 pm
By: , Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Books, Kids and Family, National Geographic

I am on a Gratitude Jihad.

For years, Oprah has been extolling the virtues of her Gratitude Journal. I knew I should do this, but the truth was I didn’t want to add one more thing to my To Do list.

Then, two weeks ago, I felt really down. There was no particular reason; I was probably just tired and overwhelmed with responsibility. I picked up a pen, and on the back of a bill, I found myself scribbling down five things I’m grateful for. This is not generic “Health, Kids, Family,” stuff. I’m keeping myself real. Here’s a sample list.

1. I’m grateful I didn’t lose my temper once today with my kids. No Mean Mommy, a personal if invisible victory.

2. I’m grateful for my bedroom, (I recently painted half of it peach), and the fact that I’m in my bed.

3. I’m grateful to my ex-husband for all that he does to support our family. Most married couples don’t get along as well as we do, despite the fact we’ve been divorced for three years.

4. I’m grateful for my friend Rebecca, who prevented me from adopting an irresistible pooch from a rescue site. “An untrained 60-lb dog that makes poops the size of Dachshunds is not what your family needs right now,” she said bluntly. She’s right.

5. I’m grateful that I don’t have to walk a dog in the morning.

Writing down my gratitude is part of the 28-day gratitude course in Rhonda Byrne’s The Magic. I have been doing this daily for two weeks and can honestly say it is working. I mean, I just found half a million dollars. Seriously! I refinanced my house, and that will be my debt reduction. And I got a parking spot right in front of North Face when I had to return a jacket.

In Byrne’s sequel to The Secret, she reminds us that all the major religions have gratitude at their core. Maybe this is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday — because gratitude is such a universal theme, something everyone can embrace. The only gift it requires is being present — and grateful.

This Thanksgiving, I’m taking her advice and helping my kids participate by expressing their gratitude for the things that make their lives special. Magic for minis. Every night, I lie in bed with each kid and ask them to be thankful for something, anything. It is also a good reminder for me to pause and be present with my own children after a long, tiring day.

Last night, I was lying in bed with my 6-year-old daughter Mackenzie. When I asked her what she was most grateful for, she thought for a long time. Finally she said “Parmigiano cheese.”

I tried not to let her see me cracking up.

But she’s right, it always comes down to the simple things.

So this Thanksgiving we’re keeping it simple, and we’re remembering what Thanksgiving is about – being grateful.

One of the projects we’re really looking forward to is decorating the table. Mackenzie is an artist at heart and is looking forward to designing Thanksgiving placemats — the National Geographic Kids site even shows you how to make awesome hand-print turkeys — for each guest. With twelve guests coming this year, that is a lot of turkeys to draw. Her real task, though, is to write or draw why she is thankful for each guest. This exercise not only gives her a LOT of practice with her turkey decorating technique, it also helps her focus on her relationships with her relatives, some of whom she only sees a few times a year. And talk about something that will melt the hearts of each guest when they sit down!

The ability to acknowledge and express gratitude is a gift. In my 28-day practice, I can honestly say that that when you look at your cup half full, it always is.

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy Your Kid a Cell Phone.
 

These tips can help you:

  • Decide whether your kid is ready for a cell phone
  • Teach basic cell-phone safety
  • Explain responsible cell phone rules
  • Set limits

Advice & Answers

 

At some point, most of us decide that our kids are ready for a phone — so they can call when they get off the bus, need a ride, or just check in. That’s when you discover that it’s nearly impossible to find a phone with only the features you need — namely, the ability to receive and make phone calls.

Most phones — even basic models — are tiny handheld computers, with features that put a lot of power in little hands. Kids can take photos, text, access the Internet, watch YouTube, play games, download music … and even make calls.

Cell phones give kids access to the world in ways that you can’t predict. A little advanced preparation, including rules, guidance, and expectations, can go a long way toward protecting your kids.

What’s the right age to get my kid a cell phone?

Age isn’t as important as responsibility and maturity. If your kid can demonstrate both — by checking in with you at appointed times, following your rules, adhering to school guidelines, and handling the phone sensibly — then he or she may be ready. Here are a few questions to help you decide:

  • Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Will they use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

Can I “just say no” to cell phones?

It’s not a tragedy to be the only kid at school without a phone. But there are very few public phones anymore. If there’s an emergency and you need to reach your kid, you’ll be kicking yourself for not having gotten him one. Maybe you just don’t want to buy into a tech-obsessed, always-connected culture. You can still pass along your values by modeling the tech habits you want your kids to pick up — without missing that emergency call.

What are the basic safety rules for cell phones?

Basic safety skills are essential for kids’ safety and privacy. Here are the areas kids will need to be responsible for, plus some best practices.

  • Texting
  • Calling
    • Verify the caller or texter. Don’t respond to numbers you don’t know.
    • Answer the phone when it’s Mom or Dad. Make sure your kid knows to answer when it’s YOU calling!
  • Cameras
    • Ask permission. Before you snap someone’s picture, take a video, or forward something, ask if it’s OK.
    • Don’t publicly embarrass people. Don’t post someone’s photo — especially unflattering ones — from your cell phone without permission.
  • Apps and downloads
    • Manage costs. Make sure your kids understand that they’re spending real money when they download apps, games, and music.
    • Use filters. Check your phone for parental controls that let you filter out age-inappropriate content, restrict downloads, and prevent in-app purchases.
  • Posting
    • Be selective — not impulsive. Make sure kids know to be very selective about what they post from their cell phone.
    • Be safe. Explain why they shouldn’t use location services.

What should I do if someone “sexts” my kid?

This can happen — even accidentally! Tell your kid to delete the photo and block the number. And if someone asks your kids to send them a “sext,” make sure your kids say no and tells you if they’re being pressured.

My kid’s friend texted an embarrassing photo of her to friends. What should I do?

She learned the hard way that kids can use cell phones to humiliate others by forwarding texts, photos, and other things that were thought to be private. First, explain that this is a form of cyberbullying. Next, talk to the other kid’s parents — and show them the evidence. Don’t accuse — but do make sure that you’re all on the same page about what’s appropriate behavior. Make sure your kids don’t retaliate, but do make sure they’re standing up for themselves and have supportive friends who will also stand up to bullies. Also consider discussing the matter with your kid’s school — the bully may actually be acting out due to other problems.

Is there anything I can do about the spam my kid’s phone gets?

Cell phone spam (unsolicited bulk messages) is a growing problem — and if kids click on these ads, they may be unwittingly giving away information or opting into a service. Call your cell phone company to report the problem; they may ask you to forward the spam to a specific number. Then, block the caller, either by using your phone’s settings or going through your carrier.

Should I buy parental controls from my wireless carrier?

There are pros and cons to purchasing these services, which let you do everything from filtering inappropriate content to blocking phone purchases to locating your kid on a map. The main “con” is cost. Some of these features can be expensive, and you may be able to find cheaper alternatives through the phone’s built-in settings or through third-party apps. But on the “pro” side is need. While we like to think our kids will be completely responsible, some kids will resist your rules. If your kid is risking safety, privacy, and money, it might be worth looking into these services.

Are smartphones OK for kids?

Kids love smartphones. And why not? They can play games, access the Internet, video chat — and do lots of other advanced activities. If you’re going to spring for a smartphone, get one that allows you to turn off features you don’t want your kids using (like the ability to purchase apps) and keep the ones that you’re OK with (like texting).

How do I keep tabs on my kids’ cell phone use without seeming intrusive?

Some parents say, “If I’m paying for it, I’m entitled to read my kids’ texts, check their call log, and know who their buddies are.” That’s valid, but kids consider these devices to be as personal as diaries, so tread cautiously. Spot checks are a good idea. You know your kid best. If you sense something isn’t right, spot check more often. Explain that your rules are for their safety and protection and that you need to be able to make sure they’re using their devices appropriately.

My kid seems addicted to her phone. What do I do?

Experts have compared cell-phone dependency to gambling. Every text, email, and update is like a “hit” you begin to crave. Hopefully, you’re just dealing with a compulsive habit that you can manage by structuring your kids’ time. Schedule time for the phone to be on and off, schedule activities where the cell phone can’t be used, and look into programs that block the phone from being used. If you suspect the problem is true addiction, talk to your pediatrician.

 

Original article

“Coping with Disappointment”

by Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler
Local clinical psychologist, author and speaker

 

Although dealing with disappointment is an important and inescapable part of childhood, one of the hardest things for parents is seeing kids fall short of their goals. Not only does it hurt us to see them feeling sad, disappointed, or rejected, but also it’s challenging to know how to help them. Yet our response, and the lessons it teaches our children, is vital to their development. Typically, life gives us plenty of opportunities–for example, dealing with a 11-year-old who doesn’t make a premier sports team, a 14-year-old who gets turned down by a competitive orchestra, a 16-year-old who isn’t elected to student government, or a 13-year-old who doesn’t get a leading role in the school play. In my view, how we respond powerfully shapes the way our teens and tweens process these experiences, feel about themselves, and make future decisions.

During the past weeks, when many high school seniors heard back from colleges, I was reminded many times of our key parental roles. Of course, it is far easier to respond helpfully when our teens are accepted to their dream schools. But this year many students and their parents were shocked by rejections from colleges they considered “safeties” rather than “matches.” In many cases, the news sent families reeling.

Mothers and fathers reported feeling “awful” or sick,” “unable to sleep,” and withdrawing from people to avoid having to talk about college. These initial reactions to disappointment are perfectly normal and understandable. By acknowledging our feelings, we are modeling for our kids that it is okay to be upset and distressed when they don’t get what they want–whether it’s a romantic partner, internship, or graduate school slot. And then we all have to move on.

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