The world, as most of us have sadly noticed, seems to be filled with an increasing number of jerks lately. Most of us don’t want our kids to grow up and join their ranks. Which is why I’m pretty sure science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer’s new book will fly off the shelves. It’s brilliantly title How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t A**holes and offers a deep dive into what research says about making sure your darling offspring end up kind, generous, and not racist.
If that’s a topic that’s of interest to you, the whole book is self-recommending, but in a recent interview with Scientific American (hat tip Boing Boing) Wenner Moyer offered a sneak peak of what you’ll find within. In the interview, she stresses that a lot of good science has been done on how to make sure your kid doesn’t end up being a jerk that offers parents plenty of guidance. Some of it is quite counter-intuitive.
How to teach your kid empathy
Take the question of how to make sure your child is kind and generous. Almost every parent has experienced the embarrassment of your child being the one who refuses to share his or her toys on the playground, and most of us react the same way — you take your kid aside and deliver an age appropriate chat on the importance of sharing for friendship while pointing out how unpleasant it feels to be the one whose excluded from a toy or game.
There’s nothing wrong with this age-old technique of trying to lecture your kid into kindness, but Wenner Moyer claims research shows there is a more effective way. It’s just not one that’s instantly obvious to most of us. The secret to raising kind kids, according to science, is to talk about feelings more.
This is counterintuitive. What your three year old is probably feeling when he refuses to share his ball is that he would like to play with that ball and sharing it with others is not very fun. So why would encouraging him to talk about how much he wants to keep his toy for himself lead to him willingly giving it up to another child?
“Helping our kids understand their feelings gives them the capacity to understand others’ feelings and helps them make decisions to help their friends and be more generous toward them,” Wenner Moyer explains. “This is part of something called theory of mind–how to understand others’ feelings.”
And it’s not just talking about your child’s feelings that helps. It’s talking about your own too. “Research suggests that the more parents talk about their feelings and other peoples’, the more kids are likely to be generous and helpful,” she adds.
High EQ helps kids thrive.
Helping your kid recognize and name their feelings and those of others, as well as developing strategies to cope with less-than-pleasant emotions, might seem like a small thing or too touchy feely for some tastes. But Wenner Moyer isn’t the only one pointing out that the effects of this simple parenting move can end up being profound.
For example, in her TEDx talk family therapist Lael Stone explains that the first step to developing the kind of high EQ that pays huge personal and professional dividends later in life is speaking openly and empathetically with your child about their feelings (and yours too). This teaches your child to recognize and sit with their own emotions, Stone explains, which later enables them to recognize and empathize with the emotions of others.
While it may feel counterintuitive to name and validate your child’s feelings when all you want them to do is think of the other kid’s, science suggests making space to talk about emotions Isn’t likely to turn them into self-obsessed navel gazers. Instead, it teaches them about the power of emotions generally, and understanding and acknowledging the emotions of others is the foundation of adult kindness and generosity.
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