Contrary to the common belief about young children I do not believe they are egocentric and selfish. Many people say that they are only interested in their own needs. They claim this is a natural thing developmentally and they cannot experience empathy until they are older.
I have seen the deepest and most loving of empathies come from little folk when that’s what their environment is. When they are surrounded by deep respect and empathy themselves they reflect it in their own lives.
Children Learn From Their Environment
Kids learn the opposite of their natural empathy quickly and easily, because they learn everything quickly and easily! If they are in an environment where their freedom and needs aren’t being given deep respect then they will learn that is the way to treat people.
It really takes very little to bring out the natural generosity that is within them.
Seeing it, validating it, reflecting it and mostly being a model of it.
Being an Example For Our Kids Can Be Difficult
But how can we be a model of it if we expect them to adhere to our way of thinking?
This is an inherent contradiction.
“I want my kid to respect and listen to me,
but I won’t listen to them when they say
they don’t want to brush their teeth.”
I know it’s a difficult thing to understand, but when we make our kids brush their teeth when they don’t want to we are giving them the message that it’s okay to ignore another person’s needs when we feel our needs are more important.
The Example Works Both Ways
Therefore if they make a big fuss when you want to get out the door and they don’t,
they are just following your example!
I know that is harsh and I’m sorry, but it’s necessary to understand.
Cooperation comes naturally when that is what they experience in their own lives.
This idea brings up some resistance with parents.
-but they have to brush their teeth or they’ll get cavities
-but they have to shower every day or they’ll be dirty
-but they can’t have desert before dinner or they’ll ruin their appetite
-but they can’t watch all the TV they want or they’ll rot their brains
Whatever the struggle is, they are doing what they’ve learned.
Change Starts With Us
It is possible to unlearn and relearn another way of doing things,
but it will have to start with the parents.
Be empathetic to their feelings.
(even if they don’t make sense to you)
Give importance to their values.
(even when you think what you value is more valid)
Don’t insist on obedience.
(even when you really, really want to!)
As you begin to do these things more and more you will see deeper levels of generosity, empathy and cooperation in your kids.
You can read this post to hear a little more about brushing the teeth and cooperation: