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As deep-seated divisions, vitriol and disturbing news fill headlines, many people are wondering what happened to the qualities of empathy and kindness in our society.
In the same vein, many parents are wondering how to raise kids who will be a force for love and goodness in the face of bitterness and hate.
HuffPost spoke to psychologists, parents and other experts about how to instill empathy in children.
Talk About Feelings
“The gateway to empathy is emotional literacy,” said Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and the author of numerous parenting books.
A simple way to foster emotional literacy is by promoting face-to-face communication in the age of texting and smartphones. “Digital-driven kids aren’t necessarily learning emotions when they pick emojis,” Borba said. “Make it a rule in your house to always look at the color of the talker’s eyes because it will help your child tune in to the other person.”
Another key aspect is teaching kids to identify their own emotions early on. “Use emotional language with kids. Say things like, ‘I see you’re really frustrated,’ or, ‘I see you’re really mad,’” Laura Dell, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education, told HuffPost.
“Before children can identify and empathize with other people’s feelings, they need to understand how to process their own feelings,” she continued. “Once they can identify their own emotion, they’re better able to develop those self-regulation skills to control their own emotions ― and then take the next step to understand the emotions of others.”
Ravi Rao, a pediatric neurosurgeon turned children’s show host, believes parents should teach feelings as much as they teach things like colors and numbers.
“You’ll see parents walking through the park and taking every opportunity to ask, ‘What color is that man’s jacket?’ ‘What color is the bus?’ ‘How many trees are there?’” he explained. “You can also practice emotion by saying things like, ‘Do you see the woman over there? Does she look happy or does she look sad?’”
Rao also recommends playing a “guess what I’m feeling” game at home by making happy or sad faces and asking your children to identify the emotion. “You just get their brains in the habit of noticing the signals on other people’s faces.”
Once kids have a better sense of emotions and how things make them feel, you can ask them about the emotional perspectives of others. “You can ask things like, ‘How do you think it made Tommy feel when you took his toy?’ or, ‘That made Mommy really sad when you hit me,’” said Borba.
Use Media To Your Advantage
Watching TV or reading books together presents another great opportunity to cultivate empathy, according to Madeleine Sherak, a former educator and the author of Superheroes Club, a children’s book about the value of kindness.
“Discuss instances when characters are being kind and empathetic, and similarly, discuss instances when characters are being hurtful and mean,” she suggested. “Discuss how the characters are probably feeling and possible scenarios of how the situations may have been handled differently so as to ensure that all characters are treated kindly.”
Borba recommends engaging in emotionally charged films and literature like The Wednesday Surprise, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter andTo Kill a Mockingbird.
Set An Example
Parents need to walk the walk and model empathy themselves, noted Rao.
“Kids will pick up on more things than just what you say. You can say, ‘Pay attention to other people’s feelings,’ but if the child doesn’t perceive or witness you paying attention to people’s feelings, it doesn’t necessarily work,” he explained.
Rao emphasized the importance of parents using language to convey their own emotional states by saying things like, “Today, I’m really frustrated,” or, “Today, I’m really disappointed.” They can practice empathy when role-playing with dolls or action figures or other games with kids as well.
It’s also necessary for parents to recognize and respect their children’s emotions, according to Dell.
“For kids to show empathy to us and others, we need to show empathy to them,” she explained. “Of course it’s tough as a parent trying to get multiple kids to put on their clothes and shoes and get out the door to go to school in the morning. But sometimes it makes a difference to take that pause and say, ‘I see it’s making you really sad that we can’t finish watching ‘Curious George’ this morning, but if we finished it, we wouldn’t be able to make it to school on time, and it’s really important to get to school on time.’”
“It doesn’t mean you have to give in to their wants all the time, but to recognize you understand how they feel in a situation,” she added.
Acknowledge Children’s Acts Of Kindness
“Parents are always praising children for what grades they got or how they did on a test. You can also boost their empathy by letting them know it matters to develop a caring mindset,” said Borba, noting that when children do things that are kind and caring, parents can stop for a moment to acknowledge that.
“Say, ‘Oh, that was so kind when you stopped to help that little boy. Did you see how happy it made him?’” explained Borba. “So your child realizes that caring matters, because you’re talking about it. They then begin to see themselves as caring people and their behavior will match it.”
Expose Them To Differences
“Parents have to help their children grow up and thrive in a diverse society through education about and exposure to others who are different, whether culturally, ethnically, religiously, in physical appearance and ability or disability,” Sherak said.
There are many ways to expose your children to the diversity of the world ― like reading books, watching certain movies and TV shows, eating at restaurants with different cuisines, visiting museums, volunteering in your community, and attending events hosted by various religious or ethnic groups.
“It is also important to follow up such visits and activities with open discussions and additional questions and concerns, if any,” said Sherak. “It is also valuable to discuss differences in the context of our children’s own environments and experiences in the family, at school, in their neighborhoods, and in the larger community.”
Parents can urge local schools to promote cross-cultural awareness in their curricula as well, said Rao.
“We also just have to eliminate jokes about race and culture from our homes,” he added. “Maybe back in the day making jokes about race like Archie Bunker seemed acceptable and part of what the family did when they got together on holidays. But that actually undermines empathy if the first thought a child learns about a race or group of people is something derogatory learned from humor. It can be very hard to then overcome that with other positive messages.”
Own Up To Your Mistakes
“If you make a mistake and behave rudely toward someone who messes up at a store checkout, for example, I think you should acknowledge that mistake to kids,” said Dell. After the bad moment, parents can say something like, “Wow I bet she had a lot on her hands. There were a lot of people at the store right then. I should’ve been a little kinder.”
Acknowledging and talking about your own lapses in empathy when your kids are there to witness them makes an impression. “Your child is right there watching, seeing everything,” Dell explained. “Own up to moments you could’ve made better choices to be kinder to the people around you.”
Make Kindness A Family Activity
Families can prioritize kindness with small routines like taking time at dinner every night to ask everyone to share two kind things they did, or writing down simple ways to be caring that they can all discuss together, said Borba. Playing board games is another way to learn to get along with everybody.
Borba also recommended volunteering together as a family or finding ways that your children enjoy giving back.
“If your kid is a sports guru, then helping him do arts and crafts with a less privileged kid might not be the best match, but you can find other opportunities for face-to-face giving that match their interests,” she explained. “Help them realize the life of giving is better than the life of getting.”
“[It’s] a set of ‘we’ statements that express the values and virtues you commit to live by ― for example, ‘We show kindness through kind words and kind actions’; ‘We say we’re sorry when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings’; ‘We forgive and make up when we’ve had a fight,’” he explained.
Lickona also recommended holding everyone accountable to the family values at weekly family meetings centered around questions like, “How did we use kind words this week?” and, “What would help us not say unkind things even if we’re upset with somebody?”
“When kids slip into speaking unkindly ― as nearly all sometimes will ― gently ask for a ‘redo,’” he said. “‘What would be a kinder way to say that to your sister?’ Make it clear that you’re asking for a redo not to embarrass them, but to give them a chance to show that they know better. Then thank them for doing so.”
Another piece of advice from Lickona: Just look around.
“Even in today’s abrasive, angry, and often violent culture, there are acts of kindness all around us. We should point these out to our children,” he said. “We should explain how kind words and kind deeds, however small ― holding the door for someone, or saying ‘thank you’ to a person who does us a service ― make a big impact on the quality of our shared lives.”
Family traditions are more than just habits your family keeps around the holidays – they’re the ideas and practices that create your family culture. Family traditions are one of the many things that shape our individual identities, but they also keep us connected to our families. For that reason, it’s important to start new family traditions while keeping up with the old traditions. So if you’re looking for new family traditions, check out our ideas below.
Family Tradition Definition: What Is A Family Tradition
A family tradition is a pattern of behavior that reflects and reinforces a family’s values, attitudes, or beliefs. Family traditions are exclusively inherited through parents or ancestry, and therefore reflect the history of that ancestry. Whether it’s something as large as traditional family recipe based on cultural heritage or as small as a traditional family saying started by a grandfather, family traditions have impact.
Importance Of Family Traditions
Family traditions are essential ways of preserving family history and values. They also provide opportunities to establish connectedness and reaffirm identity of family members. Without family traditions, many of the stories, beliefs, and teachings of a family would easily be lost through the generations. For example, many traditional folk dances wouldn’t still exist today if it weren’t for family traditions successfully passed down.
Fun Family Traditions: Family Tradition Examples
Whether you’re looking for new Thanksgiving traditions or a simple way of bringing new meaning to an old tradition, we’ve collected our favorite family traditions for you below.
1. Family Tradition Restaurant
Many families have incorporated a favorite restaurant into their family traditions. Whether it’s a small, family owned restaurant reserved for special occasions or a local place frequented weekly by the whole family, restaurants are a great source of family connection. Without having to worry about the prep work or the clean up, the family can focus on just spending time with each other. If you’re looking for a new restaurant to take the family, use it as a chance to explore your local area or to try new foods. You might just find a new favorite.
2. Family Tradition Quotes And Sayings
Plenty of families across the country have a special family quote, saying, or phrase passed through the generations. Whether it’s taken from an original family crest, or just something that caught on during a family reunion, family tradition quotes give the whole family a special language to share with each other. If you’re looking for new and meaningful quotes to add to your next family Christmas card or to share at Thanksgiving dinner, check out our resource on quotes about home.
3. Favorite Vacation Spot
Sometimes the best place to reconnect as a family is on vacation. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to schedule a family vacation annually, it can easily become a favorite family tradition. Whether it’s a relaxing trip to the bahamas or a weekend in the woods, there’s sure to be something fun for the whole family. And if you’re looking for ideas for your next family vacation, check out our guide on family trip ideas.
4. Sports Game Ritual
Are you a baseball family? Or do you plan your Sundays around football games? No matter the sport, if your family can’t get enough of watching or playing the games, you probably already have a sports game ritual, turned family tradition. It might be wearing family jerseys together, or it might be gathering around the TV and cheering on the home team together. And if this isn’t currently one of your family traditions, it’s easy to make one out of your local sports team.
5. Family Heirlooms
Plenty of families hold onto family heirlooms through the years. Things like old war memorabilia, sports cards, collectables, or family jewelry become keepsakes passed through the generations. If you have special family heirlooms, try your best to preserve them, like storing them in a shadow box, in order to pass them on and keep the family tradition going.
6. Family Recipes
Family recipes are one of the best ways of keeping past cultural heritage alive. Recipes brought over from the “old country” or even homemade recipes created by a great grandmother make excellent family traditions because cooking together keeps families connected. If you don’t have a family recipe, consider starting a new one. Take the family’s favorite meal and make something special, then teach the kids how to make it themselves. It’ll become a family tradition in no time.
7. Family Meal Time
In an age whether it’s convenient to eat on the go or to eat in front of the TV, taking time to eat together as a family is becoming more of a family tradition than an everyday habit. Try to make time in the family’s busy schedules to have a sit down dinner with everyone together, even if it’s just once a week.
8. Family Superstitions
From things as small as lucky socks to larger or spookier beliefs, such as belief in a family ghost, superstitions exist in every family. These superstitions may be based on a religious reasons or even an old family rumor, but over time the practices of that superstition often become a family tradition.
9. Annual Photos
Large family portraits or annual photos make for excellent family traditions because they provide beautiful photos to look back on. In the years to come family can watch other family members grow through each annual photograph or portrait. Plus, it makes picking a family Christmas card photo easy.
10. Regular Outdoor Activities
Exercise is always good for the whole family, and it’s even better to spend that time together. Make a family walk, jog, bike ride, hike or other activity part of your weekly family time. And if you’re looking for new family exercise ideas, make sure to check out our resource on family activities.
11. Movie Nights
Movie nights are perfect for families who need a night of relaxation. Take turns each week with a different family member getting to pick a movie. Then, have everyone dress in pajamas, make plenty of movie snacks, and snuggle up on the couch. This family tradition is as easy as it is fun.
12. Passed Down Stories
Passed down stories, whether the stories are verbal or old paperback books, are great ways to pass down family values. These stories can be told at bedtimes, around campfires, or at family reunions. If you need ideas for books to read to the whole family, make sure to check out our resource on children’s book quotes.
13. Game Nights
Game nights are interactive, fun ways to reconnect the whole family after a long week. For that reason, they make perfect weekly or monthly family traditions. From board games to card games to a few rounds of minute to win it, game night will easily become a tradition the whole family looks forward to. For ideas for your game night, check out our favorite fun family games.
You may be popular, or you may be a loser. But you have friends. More importantly, you have a best friend. Sometimes, there are times when you are annoyed, but besides that, they are some of the most important people in your life. If all others whom you thought were your friends will turn their backs on you, a best friend will always be there no matter what. There’s a saying that goes: “Best friends are siblings God forgot to give you.”
Communicate with your best friend. Frequent communication is essential to deepening your friendship. Making sure that they feel loved and supported will help you remain friends with them. Let them know about your day and random facts about yourself. Listen to them when they speak, and respond with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm so that they feel happy.
Plan activities together. Spending time with your friend is important, as it reminds them that they’re loved. Share fun moments with them. Send them invitations to different outings, such as the movies or to a sleepover. Be sure that you both enjoy the activity; otherwise, they may feel unhappy and not want to spend time with you. Also, invite your other friends for a change in variety.
Share your secrets with them. Allowing you into your life will make them feel special. As your best friend, they will want to know about you as much as possible. By opening up to them, they will understand that you trust them and want them in your life. If they shares secrets with you, be a good friend and keep them to yourself. Although you might be tempted to share them with others, don’t break the trust put in you.
Keep in touch. When you are apart, show that you are thinking about them by calling, emailing, or texting them. Sending a short, simple message can do the trick. However, remember to give space so that they don’t feel smothered.
Create nicknames. Giving them a special name will strengthen your bond with them. Be sure that they don’t, however, feel embarrassed or hurt by the name; if they feel you’re making fun of them, it could throw a wrench in your friendship. Have inside jokes with each other.
Support their obsessions. Every person is made unique by their likes and dislikes. Even if you may not love their television shows or favorite celebrities, show that you love and support them by listening when they talk about them. You could also purchase gifts related to their likes, such as a shirt of a favorite band.
Avoid obstacles in your friendship. In order to ensure that you both remain friends for a long time, don’t allow menial situations or differences to separate you both. It doesn’t matter that she’s got the same shirt or pair of boots as you. Why should you care if he isn’t a fan of the band you love? Your similarities and differences with them should not cause a tear in your friendship.
Respect them. Above all, respect your friend, their space and their choices. You’re not the boss of them and neither they of you. Enjoy everything together for as long as it lasts.
If you are concerned that a child is a victim of abuse, you may not be sure what to do or how to respond. Child sexual abuse is a crime that often goes undetected. No matter what your role is—parent or other family member, coach, teacher, religious leader, babysitter—you have the power to make a positive difference in this child’s life.
1. Recognize the signs
The signs of abuse aren’t always obvious, and learning the warning signs of child sexual abuse could be life saving. You might notice behavioral or physical changes that could signal a child is being abused. Some of these warning signs include:
- Behavioral signs: Shrinking away from or seeming threatened by physical contact, regressive behaviors like thumb sucking, changing hygiene routines such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively, age-inappropriate sexual behaviors, sleep disturbances, or nightmares
- Physical signs: Bruising or swelling near the genital area, blood on sheets or undergarments, or broken bones
- Verbal cues: Using words or phrases that are “too adult” for their age, unexplained silence, or suddenly being less talkative
2. Talk to the child
If you are concerned about abuse, talk to the child. Keep in mind a few guidelines to create a non-threatening environment where the child may be more likely to open up to you.
- Pick your time and place carefully. Choose a space where the child is comfortable or ask them where they’d like to talk. Avoid talking in front of someone who may be causing the harm.
- Be aware of your tone. If you start the conversation in a serious tone, you may scare the child, and they may be more likely to give you the answers they think you want to hear—rather than the truth. Try to make the conversation more casual. A non-threatening tone will help put the child at ease and ultimately provide you with more accurate information.
- Talk to the child directly. Ask questions that use the child’s own vocabulary, but that are a little vague. For example, “Has someone been touching you?” In this context “touching” can mean different things, but it is likely a word the child is familiar with. The child can respond with questions or comments to help you better gauge the situation like, “No one touches me except my mom at bath time,” or “You mean like the way my cousin touches me sometimes?” Understand that sexual abuse can feel good to the child, so asking if someone is “hurting” them may not bring out the information that you are looking for.
- Listen and follow up. Allow the child to talk freely. Wait for them to pause, and then follow up on points that made you feel concerned.
- Avoid judgment and blame. Avoid placing blame by using “I” questions and statements. Rather than beginning your conversation by saying, “You said something that made me worry…” consider starting your conversation with the word “I.” For example: “I am concerned because I heard you say that you are not allowed to sleep in your bed by yourself.”
- Reassure the child. Make sure that the child knows that they are not in trouble. Let them know you are simply asking questions because you are concerned about them.
- Be patient. Remember that this conversation may be very frightening for the child. Many perpetrators make threats about what will happen if someone finds out about the abuse. They may tell a child that they will be put into foster care or threaten them or their loved ones with physical violence.
3. Report it
Reporting a crime like sexual abuse may not be easy, and it can be emotionally draining. Keep in mind that reporting abuse gives you the chance to protect someone who can’t protect themselves. Depending on where you live and your role in the child’s life, you may be legally obligated to report suspicions of abuse. You can learn more about the laws in your state by visiting RAINN’s State Law Database.
Before you report
- Tell the child that you’re going to talk to someone who can help. Be clear that you are not asking their permission.
- The child may not want you to report and may be frightened, especially if the perpetrator has threatened them or their loved ones. Remember that by reporting, you are involving authorities who will be able to keep the child safe.
- Ensure that the child is in a safe place. If you have concerns over the child’s safety, be sure to discuss them explicitly with authorities when you make the report. If you fear that the perpetrator will cause further harm to the child upon learning about the investigation, clearly communicate this to authorities.
- If you are not concerned that the parents are causing harm, you can consult with them prior to making a report to authorities.
- If you are a parent and are concerned that your partner or someone in your family may be hurting your child, this may be a very difficult time. It’s important to be there for your child, and it’s also important to take care of yourself. Learn more about being a parent to a child who has experienced sexual abuse and how to practice self-care.
- Prepare your thoughts. You will likely be asked identifying information about the child, the nature of the abuse, and your relationship with the child. While anonymous tips are always an option, identified reporting increases the likelihood of prosecuting the perpetrator.
Where to report
- If you know or suspect that a child has been sexually assaulted or abused you can report these crimes to the proper authorities, such as Child Protective Services. Reporting agencies vary from state to state. To see where to report to in your state, visit RAINN’s State Law Database.
- Call or text the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800.422.4453 to be connected with a trained volunteer. Childhelp Hotline crisis counselors can’t make the report for you, but they can walk you through the process and let you know what to expect.
After you report
- You may not hear or see signs of an investigation right away. Depending on an agency’s policies and your relationship to the child, you may be able to call back to follow up after a few days.
- If you are able to, continue to play the supportive role you always have in that child’s life. If making the report means that you can’t have this relationship anymore, know that by reporting you are helping that child stay safe.
- Take care of yourself. Reporting sexual abuse isn’t easy. It’s important to practice self-care during this time.