From the Psychologist’s Desk

My name is Bernadette Celliers. I am the School Psychologist responsible for Carey Baptist College, Secondary School.

I’m very interested in the psychology of ‘wellness’ or, as it is popularly called, ‘Positive Psychology’, and have been closely following developments at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria where, along with the support of Dr Martin Seligman, the whole school has embarked on a journey to assist young people in developing a positive, caring and mindful approach to life.

The following excerpt is from an article about developing a caring approach in our children. The topic is something very close to my heart, and I am indebted to the American Psychological Association Help Centre for permission to use this information.

What Makes Kids Care? Teaching Gentleness in a Violent World

In a world where violence and cruelty seem to be common and almost acceptable, many parents wonder what they can do to help their children to become kinder and gentler — to develop a sense of caring and compassion for others. Raising kids who care isn’t a solution to violence by itself, but it’s reasonable to worry that being exposed to a lot of violence — whether it’s on television or on the streets — could make your children hard and uncaring.

Researchers used to believe that a sense of real caring about others only came as people grow into adulthood. Now studies are finding that children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age and that teenagers who were involved in helping others felt very positive about their lives and had high hopes for their own futures.

The most important thing you as a parent can do in developing care and kindness in your children towards others is to let your children know how much it means to you that they behave with kindness and responsibility. When you see your child doing something that you think is thoughtless or cruel, you should let them know right away that you don’t want them doing that. Speak to your child firmly and honestly, and keep your focus on the act, not on the child personally —

Something along the lines of ‘What you did is not very nice’ rather than ‘You are not very nice.’

This emotional reaction needs to be accompanied by information; an explanation of why you disapprove. For example, “Look, Joey is crying. He’s crying because you took his toy away. That wasn’t a very nice thing to do!” or “It hurts the cat when you do that; that’s why he scratched you. It isn’t kind, and I don’t want you to do that any more!” It’s important to let children know how deeply you feel about their behaviour toward others. If they see that you have a real emotional commitment to something, it’s more likely that the issue will become important to them, too.

Be frank, honest and upfront with your kids about what kind of behaviour you do and don’t like. Keep your comments short and to the point; the idea is to teach them, not to make them feel guilty.

According to another study there are two kinds of parental role modelling that help teach children to be caring: kindness to others and kindness to the child.

In other words, our actions speak louder than words.

If you are consistently caring and compassionate, it’s more likely that your children will be, too. Children watch their parents, and other adults, for clues on how to behave. Keep in mind that if you say one thing and do another, your children will pay a lot more attention to what you do. The old warning “Do as I say, not as I do” simply does not work, particularly when it comes to teaching about caring.

Try to surround your children with other people who are kind and caring, so that they have several role models.

If you treat your children with respect for their dignity, concern, and regard for their achievements, you help them understand that all living creatures should be treated with dignity and concern.

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