– By Dr. Dana Harris

This season let the renewal of spring be your cue to look at your family’s emotional well being. Here are tips that will help give your family a fresh start.

Kids who have a positive perspective about the ups and downs of daily life are better able to manage their emotions and are stronger for it. Regardless of age, personal growth is about competency and because there’s a harmonious interplay between how kids feel and what they do, their emotional needs should not be overlooked. Emotional wellness is a fundamental aspect of healthy child development.

Empathy is a powerful communication skill when it comes to emotional wellness but is often misunderstood and under utilized. Empathy is the capacity to share in and understand another persons state of mind and is often characterized as the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes.

The new digital age has given our children enormous ways to connect with others, but countless researchers and professionals are deeply concerned with how social networking and fewer face-to-face relationships may have contributed toward a drop in empathetic concern for others over the past few decades. Studies also associate low empathy to increased bullying, narcissism, rigid belief systems and civic apathy. The consequences of ignoring empathetic concern for others is real and the psychological damage can run deep, even for those who assemble silently on the sidelines. To reverse these insensitive trends, parents must help facilitate emotional wellness. Start with these tips!

1. Live with Integrity. Children might not always understand the complexities of adult life but they have a sweet, simple understanding of right and wrong. This inner compass makes them

keenly aware of hypocrisy. What parent hasn’t been caught in the trap of, “Do as I say, not as I do?” We all make mistakes as parents but the best way to teach your child how to live a life of character is to live a life of integrity yourself as much a possible. Be honest, avoid gossip, work hard and look for the good in others. Treat those around you with respect and kindness. When you mess up, admit it and try again. Review what you say or share on social media. Does it reflect your values? Is it hurtful to others? Are there more respectful ways to share what you believe? Children are watching and learning from their adult role models and more than anything else you do, your example will remain with your child throughout his or her life. Living with integrity becomes a way of life.

2. Instill Compassion at Home. Regarded as one of the greatest human virtues by all major religious traditions, compassion is an emotional response and attitude toward others that is deeply empathetic. Compassion enables us to connect to human suffering with care and understanding and to act in ways that brings comfort to those around us. Compassion cannot be learned by simply talking about it, children must practice compassion in their daily lives. Difficult encounters with family members, classmates and friends present valuable opportunities to practice compassion. Pay attention to children’s reactions and behaviors toward others and help them recognize the causes that underlie the feelings they’re experiencing. Encourage children to name and to acknowledge those feelings in order to gain self- awareness. The adult world is indeed an overwhelming place with lots of complicated social rules and traditions. Like second-hand smoke, the effects of not showing empathy and compassion will often drip invisibly into the mind, body and soul of our children.

3. Expose Children to Different Opinions and World Views. When families cultivate curiosity about how individuals and groups of people see the world differently, they expand children’s intellectual, interpersonal and emotional boundaries. Parents can help children recognize and understand differing perspectives. When challenged to explore prejudices, help children find shared commonalities and glean meaning from what they imagine are the similarities and shared connections.

4. Instill Self-Esteem. Children often face uncertainties, have to cope with competitive environments or situations and are often faced with difficult expectations. Many kids struggle with confidence but children who stand up for the principles in which they believe have high degrees of self-esteem. Parents instill self- esteem in children when they allow children to grow from their relationships and appreciate their child for who they are and not just for what they achieve.

When young people learn to believe in themselves, dishonesty and disrespect no longer make much sense. When children perform well, it’s good for them to feel the warm joy that comes from a job well done. As adults, we shape a child’s integrity by treating them with respect and dignity and by listening to their feelings and concerns without judgement.

5. Foster relationships. Good relationships can be buoyant, whereas difficult ones can be upsetting. Because relationships with family and friends affect the way we feel, it’s important to encourage children to forge solid connections, to learn about give-and-take, conflict resolution and to develop and use strategies that will keep interactions on an even keel. If you want to raise a child who can stand up for what they believe in then encourage your child to share their opinions and know their beliefs are worthy.

As parents, we all want successful, happy, well-adjusted kids who are also kind, empathetic and compassionate. At the end of the day, we can help by sitting back and reflecting on the following questions. How do we as parents ensure that our children have the empathy and integrity that we dream they would? How do we fight selfishness, self- absorption, complacency, bullying and isolation and teach our children to care? As parents, we have a moral imperative to rethink how we teach our kids to care in a hurried, complex and data-driven world. In fact, individual and societal success depends on our ability to do so. Look for small teachable moments. Your child’s moral growth is an ongoing process that will span the course of a lifetime. The moral knowledge, beliefs and habits you instill in them now will become the foundation they’ll use forever. And at the end of the day, children who develop the traits early on are more likely to have happy, productive relationships in both their professional and personal lives as adults.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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