Since 1979, there’s been a quiet epidemic proliferating in the crop of kids that followed Generation X. It’s not a devastating cancer or a sedentary tendency. It’s a deficiency. An empathy deficiency. In other words, the topic of how to raise a kind child is more relevant than ever.
In this 2010 University of Michigan study, analysts found that modern college kids are less likely to look at situations from another point of view and more likely to focus on their needs above others. And it’s gotten worse.
Since 2000, in a the short span of a decade, they observed 40 percent drops in empathy compared to counterparts from 30 years ago.
Startling, yes. But the researchers saw a few sensible factors that have brought the problem to a head.
First, college kids today have been told since childhood how special, unique and perfect they are in a push to boost confidence and self-esteem. Second, social media increases the ease of “turning off” friends when dealing with their problems seems like a big bother.
Luckily, there are ways to snatch your offspring from the no-empathy zone and help them become cool, kind and compassionate kids. Here’s a simple list to get you started.
1. Start now
Kids are never too young to learn kindness, and they’re more receptive than we realize. Encourage toddlers to be gentle and sweet with toys.
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Most kids, toddlers especially, need lots of encouragement and reminders to fully grasp a concept.
3. Don’t be the doormat
Don’t let kids spit in your face or grab your hair. Ever. Gently but firmly tell them they may not continue with the behavior — and never laugh, which can encourage them in doing these sorts of deeds again.
4. Don’t reward them for being kind
When kids think they’re only being nice for a reward, it undermines the human compassion of the act.
5. Switch it up
When kids can’t grasp why what they did was mean, ask them how they would feel if the roles were reversed. Once they feel those feelings, they’ll be less likely to hurt people in the future.
6. Esteem only comes before respect in the dictionary
Don’t focus on building your kid’s ego. Their needs, wants and desires should not always come before those of others.
7. Stand firm
Once you’ve decided on your compassion canon, regulate at all times. Even on their birthdays, make sure kids know it’s still important to be kind.
8. Show the way
Don’t expect teachers, counselors, grandparents or babysitters to teach your children to be nice. It’s your job.
This post was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly.