Not all young children are fortunate enough to have the day-to-day structure of a preschool environment outside of the home. So, how does a concerned parent provide the “lesson” of social awareness at home? EASY! Developing an awareness of the needs of others begins at home! The structure of a family unit, and the way that the members of a family treat each other; provide this fundamental life lesson. Our behaviors, body language, words, actions, and physical touch toward each other are all closely observed by the young child. In their watching others, they learn how to be “IN” the world! The ability for the young child to learn how to be and treat others, begins by their observation of close family members, and friends. As the child grows, their capacity for understanding empathy grows exponentially. Simple acts of generosity can be implemented at home. Feeding the family pet, remembering the elderly neighbor next door, sharing toys, small assigned jobs like clearing dishes, putting away toys, and the like are all opportunities for showing our concern for others.
As parents, we are the ones that broaden our children’s vision of the world. Offering opportunities for children to participate, broadens their awareness and encourages caring, connection, and compassion for others. Fostering the concern for others is a concept that young children readily and willingly will take part in. Creating small service projects together as a family builds the desire to take better care of ourselves, others, and to make the world a better place to live!
- To learn to be caring, a child has to be nurtured and cared for first.
- Empathy is learned. The child must “see” things from another’s perspective.
- Adults need to take the lead in helping children understand feelings and consequences of actions. (You hurt John, he is crying. How can we help him feel better?)
- Family, friends, caregivers, and others play a crucial role in the development of empathy in the young child. Modeling is powerful!
- Adults need to encourage caring behaviors by validating these when exhibited by the young child. (I noticed you gave your sister a hug when she tripped and fell.)
- Provide opportunities to care for others. This could be caring for the family pet, plants at home, or another person.
Parents need to remember that they are the first teachers. The environment that they create and provide for their young child is the first classroom that their child attends.
Julia Distelhurst HPMT, L/MT-BC