In a world that at times seems to be full of conflict, parents and caregivers all hope that their children will grow up to be kind and polite to others. But is there something we can do to teach our kids to be sympathetic? How can children learn the best way to keep in mind the circumstances of others?
Sympathy is different from empathy in that it involves action. So, rather than just understanding what others are feeling, sympathy guides action – it makes people think of ways to relieve someone else’s distress. People who feel sympathy tend to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as comforting, helping, and sharing.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto, University of Plymouth, and University of Pavia, Italy explored how children of different ages shared. In their study, 160 four- and eight-year-old children received 6 equally attractive stickers. They were then given the opportunity to share any number of those stickers with a child in a picture. The child in the picture was shown in different conditions, which included: ‘needy’ (“She/he is sad”, “She/he has no toys”) and ‘not needy/neutral’ (“This boy/girl is 4 or 8 years old, just like you”).
The researchers found that children tended to share more with the ‘needy’ child and that 8-year-olds shared on average 70% of their stickers with the needy recipient (compared to 47% with the neutral recipient). The 4-year-olds shared only 45% of their stickers in the needy condition (compared to 33% in the neutral condition).
Children who develop helpful coping strategies are more likely to become resilient by working through their worries and reducing stress. Coping strategies are what we do and think to get through difficult situations. For children, those stressful situations can present themselves as having to say goodbye to a parent, or through interactions with their peers.
Helping children cope with these kind of worries will give them the tools to later deal with the stresses they face during their adult life. Likewise, it helps reduce the risk of mental health problems.
How can parents help?
Psychologist Erica Frydenberg from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education says parents can help children learn to cope by discouraging unhelpful strategies and encouraging helpful ones instead. For example, parents can discourage blaming oneself, but encourage and model asking for help and staying calm when faced with a problem.
Encouraging children to talk to an adult about their troubles is particularly effective, especially when it leads to dialogs about coping strategies. Continue reading →
Have you ever wondered why some people struggle to maintain close and healthy social relationships, while others don’t? According to John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist and researcher, the emotional responsiveness of our first experience of attachment could be the most influential factor in human development. Bowlby found that primates seek for an adult’s protection when they are in danger, just as we do. According to this pattern of survival, Bowlby concluded that we are programmed to form attachments, and possess an innate willingness to seek proximity to a protective adult.
During their first two years of life, babies form attachments with their parents. This means that the quality of interaction between you and your baby will be very important for his social and emotional development. Some factors that may influence the type of attachment that your baby will develop are: physical contact and attention to basic needs. The critical period to form an attachment to a mother or father is during the first two years of life. It’s very important to foster a secure attachment in your baby, as this will influence the quality of interpersonal relationships that he will have in the future – including romantic relationships!
How to tell if your baby has developed a secure attachment?
Across the globe, people use tools like FaceTime and Skype to connect with family and friends. What about our children? Do they understand and grow from these on-screen interactions with loved ones?
A team of researchers from Lafayette College, led by Professor Lauren J. Myers, Ph.D., studied 1- to 2- year olds to find out what they got out of these FaceTime interactions, looking to discover if they form relationships and learn from people via video chat. In the study, 60 children under 2 years old were divided into two groups. Each group experienced one week of either real-time video chat interactions or pre-recorded videos of novel words, actions and patterns.
Researchers found that children paid attention and responded to both people in the video, but only responded in sync with the partner in the interactive video chat (such as imitating a clap after the person in the video did). Likewise – after one week of video chatting, children in the live condition learned social and cognitive information. For example, they preferred and recognized someone they had talked with through video-chat and they learned new words and patterns. Continue reading →
Teaching toddlers to play independently helps them build creativity and critical-thinking skills, and helps parents catch a break too! Independent play is important because it teaches children how to entertain themselves and helps them become more self-sufficient. This type of play usually occurs during the toddler stage.
It’s not always easy getting kids to play alone, they do love our company! But give it a try, one step at a time. At first, try to just sit beside your little one silently, while he or she plays. Let him or her explore the play materials freely. Once he or she is absorbed in the activity, try moving to another part of the room. Your toddler will still feel comfortable with you nearby. When your little one is happily playing on his or her own, try not to hover, but make sure his or her play area is safe and comfortable. Continue reading →
As a parent, you are your child’s first role model and the biggest influence in their lives. So what you do and say matters.
Kids are like sponges, they absorb everything provided to them by the environment and that includes our actions. Our attitudes towards ourselves and others imprint on them and can provoke the occurrence of certain beliefs as early as toddlerhood. We as parents play a very important role in helping build a healthy body image in our children that will make them appreciate and love their bodies. It’s never too early to start! In fact, if we start early we can help build a healthy self-esteem and in turn favor our children’s emotional and social well-being. Continue reading →
Laughter and smiles are one of the most basic human behaviors. Babies smile within hours of being born in response to a warm sensation or a sweet smell, but laughter takes a bit more time to develop as it’s mechanisms are more complex.
As you probably already discovered, babies and toddlers learn a lot through imitation, and the development of a sense of humor is no different. Research has shown that a sense of humor is nurtured at home and each silly event helps foster this wonderful trait.
The benefits of having a sense of humor include the development of a healthy self-esteem, empathy, and friendships; and it helps one laugh at themselves and become accepting of imperfections. Not only that, but research has shown that people with a sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, can handle differences and adversities well, experience less stress, and are at a lower risk for depression. What’s more, experts have identified that a robust sense of humor is a natural immune system booster.
What do you want in life for your children? Success? Intelligence, achievements, and prestige? What about internal values? We can’t build a life based on external achievements without giving ourselves a chance to explore our deepest parts. Happiness is not mentioned as often as it should. So, what about it? How do we define happiness and how can we instill happiness in our children? It turns out happiness is not a thing to be found, not something that can be created, but it can be synthesized instead. We have the capacity to create the very commodity we are constantly seeking. The latest research on happiness tells us that happiness turns out to be less a result of luck and external circumstance than a product of our mental, emotional, and physical habits. So, how can we radiate our children’s inner light?
Here are 10 scientifically proven secrets to having happier kids!
At some point during your baby’s development he or she will experience separation anxiety. This is completely normal, and the good news is that for the vast majority of babies, separation anxiety happens in phases and doesn’t last that long. Here are some tips that may help you and your baby!
Why does my baby have separation anxiety?
It all starts when your baby realizes that objects and people still exist even if he or she can’t see them – the concept that we call object permanence. Your baby realizes that the person that protects and cares for him or her has gone away and is currently existing somewhere else. Since he or she doesn’t know when, or if, you will return, anxiety kicks in!
Separation anxiety is a normal emotional stage of development, however we know it can be difficult for parents to cope with a baby who gets panicky and upset when they’re not around. So here are some ideas and tips you can try at home. Continue reading →
I recently found out that I’m going to be a mom this fall. Maybe it’s the hormones, or maybe it’s the big life changes headed my way, but I’ve definitely been more reflective lately. One of the bigger concerns that I’ve been going over – and one I’m sure I share with many moms-to-be and new moms – is what I want to teach my children. More than just academics, I really want to pin down a set of tenets for living our lives that I can pass on to them. Hopefully I’ve gathered some good tools from my psychology background and working in early childhood. The list is not definitive by any means, but I’ll try to keep honing down to what I really value that my kids live and learn. Here is my current set of ‘rules’ – with many changes, additions, and improvements to be made in the coming months (and after that, I’m sure).
Intelligence and talent is not fixed, but malleable. Carol Dweck (Stanford professor well-known for creating and championing the importance of a growth versus fixed mindset) emphasizes that both kids and adults who believe intelligence or any talent is like a muscle – if you work at it, it becomes stronger – are more likely to try harder, and therefore, to succeed. I can’t do this theory justice – and I highly recommend watching Carol Dweck’s TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve
Intelligence is not the most important thing in order to be successful. I’ve become intrigued by all of the research pointing at the importance of non-cognitive factors for success. Math and reading are important. The so-called “soft-skills” are more important. Being able to work with others, to create lasting friendships, and form strong relationships does more for a person than academic skills. While kindergartens have become more and more academic, we’ve been reducing the opportunities for kids to learn the lessons that really matter. Turns out all you need to know you really do learn in kindergarten. To really get inspired, I recommend reading Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed.
What is success anyway? Our generation grew up hearing that being happy is what is most important. But according to a 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association, rates of depression in college-aged students is soaring. Millenials might believe that pursuing happiness is the answer, but it seems it’s not giving positive results. I’m sure how I end up educating my children will be in direct response to finding that the pursuit of happiness is not all there is. However, this is where I’m still trying to formulate the best way of ensuring my kids are prepared for future obstacles while also finding the time to enjoy the many positive things in life. For more thinking on this topic, I recommend reading The Moral Bucket List article by David Brooks here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html.
These are the first three items on my list, and the ones I’ve given the most thought to. As fall approaches, I’ll be doing more reading and reflecting to come up with a more complete list. Please comment below if you have any ‘life rules’ or tips for new (or not so new!) parents! We might be able to come up with a more definitive list together.
While kindergartens have become more and more academic, we’ve been reducing the opportunities for kids to learn the lessons that really matter. Turns out all you need to know you really do learn in kindergarten.