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Come Join the Healing Pathways Team at 2018 Sacramento Earth Day!

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The Annual Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is held every April at Southside Park, downtown

Healing Pathways Psychological Services is excited to join the celebration of Sacramento Earth Day 2018. Our contribution to the event not only educates people about what we’re up to in our city, but we will be putting smiles on their faces with fun activities and prizes. We are so delighted to share these festivities with all of you and look forward to sharing this rare opportunity to spend the day together.

As always, the Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is FREE!

Parking:
During the event, parking meter spaces adjacent to the park may be available, but the meters are limited to two hours.  The two hour parking limits at sites that do not have meters, on nearby neighborhoods streets, are not applicable on weekends.

Food and beverages will be available for sale at the park during the event.  Sacramento Earth Day 2018 will be hosting food vendors in the northwest corner of the park during the event.  Compostable waste, recyclable waste, and landfill waste containers will be stationed in triads throughout the event venue.  Containers at each station will be marked by printed labels and event volunteers will be present at most stations to advise attendees, vendors, and other volunteers on waste separation requirements.

The Annual Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is filled with wonderful food, entertainment, interactive activities and business, non-profit, cultural and government organizations with invaluable and practical information, goods and services for saving money, living healthier, and protecting and celebrating the environment and the Sacramento region.

Additional Links:

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Breaking through the Barriers of Teenage Communication

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

Being a teenager can be very confusing and emotional at times. This can make it difficult for a parent to understand how to approach their teen and how to develop a strong bond with them through this stage of their life. There are several factors you should keep in mind when connecting with your teenager to help make sure you are creating a space that is empathetic and understanding.

As we develop, we have several psycho-social milestones we are expected to complete at by the end of each life stage. The milestone that teenagers are trying to develop is their individual identity. Teenagers are beginning to separate their identity from the identity of their family. Friends begin to have a larger influence on them than their parents, so it is important for parents to find a balance where they are giving the teen their space, but are still available when teens need more than their friends can provide.

We know now that human brains do not fully develop until we are in our mid-twenties. The area of the brain that is still maturing through our teen years and into our mid-20’s is the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive functioning, which includes planning, attention, inhibition and working memory (process actions that are happening to you in the present moment).  This can make it much more difficult for teenagers to be organized and use self-control.

In our teen years, we also rely heavily on our amygdala for processing information about the world around us. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for our emotions. Processing information in the emotional center of the brain can cause teens to react with stronger emotions in situations where an adult may not react so strongly.

Keeping these facts in mind, here are some tips to use when trying to establish better communication between you and your teen:

  1. Create a safe space: You will want to create an environment for your teen that lets them know you are open source to talk to that is free of judgment. This may include not reacting strongly to what they are saying and holding off on giving advice unless they ask for it.
  2. Active listening: This can be as easy are nodding and saying “Uh huh” as they are speaking or repeating important points back to your teen. These are skills many therapists use. It can let your teen that you are connecting with them so they feel more open to sharing.
  3. Withhold your impulse reactions: When they admit to something that you disagree with, withhold your gut reactions as best as you can. If this means leaving the room for a couple minutes to collect your thoughts, tell your teen you need to take care of something really quick and leave the room. Come back and rejoin the conversation when you feel like you have a clear mind. Reacting impulsively can sometimes close a teen off.
  4. Make time for your teen: Being available to your teen consistently is very important in establishing a more open relationship.
  5. Give them space: It is sometimes most effective to let them approach you. Once you have put some of these skills into motion, your teen will start to know they can rely on you and will learn to come to you with any conflicts in their life. If you are really concerned and they are not coming to you, you can always ask if they are doing okay and if there is anything they want to talk about but don’t come off as pushing too hard for them to speak up. That can work against you and cause them to close off even more.
  6. Check in with yourself during the conversation: Make sure your body language isn’t giving the impression that you are closed off (arms crossed, not looking at them in the eye) or that you are holding a judgment (expression on your face when they say something that elicits an emotion).

All these tips are things that will need some rehearsal so it is important to be patient once putting this into practice. It may be helpful to practice these skills on other people in your life before using them with your teen.


References

Johnson, S. B, Blum, R. W & Gleed, J. N. (2009) Adolescent maturity and the brain: the promise and pitfalls of neuroscience research in adolescent health policy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43 (3), 216-221.

Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R. (2008) Development through life: a psychosocial approach. (10th ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Publishing.

Sather, R. & Shelat, A. Understanding the teen brain. University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/

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On Parenting: A Classroom for Healing the Generational Conflict Cycle

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

“…The universe is part of this one cry,
every life is noted and is cherished,
and nothing loved is ever lost or perished.”
Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

By Jason Briggs, MA

According to the Global Survey of Violence Against Children put out by the United Nations, “every year, between 500 million and 1.5 billion children worldwide endure some form of violence”. 1 Alice Miller, PhD, is a psychologist, sociologist, philosopher and renowned author of many books on child abuse describes in her book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Societies Betrayal of the Child, how past child abuse is meted out against children in innumerable ways and typically by parents who assume consciously or not, a “for your own good” maxim.  Miller shows how the many parenting approaches endorsed in western society produce a multi-generational conflict cycle, through overt and covert trauma bonds. These bonds within the child/caregiver relationship are felt and aren’t impacted by analytical thought so they touch all our families equally, regardless of educational level, socio-economic status, race, etc. This blog will explore one aspect of this generational conflict cycle and be a part of a series of blogs with some solutions offered in each blog. The goal is to help parents identify and begin healing to eventually resolve the generational conflict cycle. (See Alice Miller’s book: For Your Own Good: Hidden Roots of Cruelty and Violence in Child Rearing for exploring the ways this cycle is perpetuated.)

The generational conflict cycle begins when parents with unhealed emotional wounds unconsciously attempt to get their own emotional needs met by their children. Parents will do this both consciously and unconsciously and often see their children through the veil of their own unfinished business (by bypassing this aspect of their powerful inner life), which consists of “…past internalized perceptions, which are ‘frozen’ and usually stemming from childhood.” The effects on children are they must idealize their parents to survive as their own healthy needs go unmet, the ability to soothe themselves is further perceived as hopeless, and the true self (the entire access to ones innate inner life: feelings, thoughts, wants, needs, choices, decisions, beliefs, sensations, dreams, fantasies) goes into hiding in the unconscious while a false self emerges. This child’s false self is the one that complies and relates from the parental emotional wounds as solidified judgments, which are projected onto their children, seen predominately as children’s misbehavior, oddities, attitudes, or any other judgement. This is the way a parent unconsciously ends up placing the emotional needs of the parent above their children’s emotional needs and maintains the generational conflict cycle.

Emotionally neglected children, commonly grow up to be adults who in turn, emotionally neglect their inner emotional world and those of their children. Our neglected emotional and psychological needs by the now adult parent are automatically passed on to the next generation. This generational conflict cycle, when denied, operates as generational conflicts maintained in the parent/caregiver/child relationship and takes many forms (See Alice Miller’s book: Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Societies Betrayal of the Child, for exploring more in depth ways we function in society to hold power over children, to the betrayal of children).

As parents, cultivating a mindful stance that addresses the neglect of our own unmet emotional needs helps shift the parenting stance from mindless to mindful. The hope of making this shift from the mindless to the mindful means choosing to end the bypassing of doing one’s own inner work and being self-responsible for the condition of one’s own mind. One way to do this is by choosing to see our pain as an opportunity for healing and growth, rather than a curse. Exploring that opportunity as a healing choice means to begin addressing one’s own generational conflict cycle, regardless of the time, patience, and persistence required. Therapy that helps promote healing maintains that parents focus on certain essentials to recovery, by: 1) slowing down and understanding the steps in going from ‘zero to sixty’, 2) learning about projection and it’s guises (projection is an emotional wound that is seen in another, because it is been denied in ourselves), 3) seeking therapy that focuses on experiential work that at some point includes body awareness work, 4) learning about the nature of the psyche, what constitutes its dynamics, and explore if and when a self-help approach is limiting our efforts to heal (as we may be unknowingly perpetuating a belief  that we must do our inner work alone), 5) being willing to learn about mindsight research in attachment and effective parenting (see Daniel Siegel’s work), and the way the caregiver’s role, emotions, and psyche condition impact our children’s healthy and unhealthy development, 6) exploring new and creative ways to heal and nurture ourselves as parents, as the cause for our truly being there for our children, 7) being willing to cultivate understanding and compassion in our healing and growth process, as parents.

All parents have a thankless job with most never consciously wanting to harm their children, and appealing to that truth, I see this daily in service to my clients who are parents, and see this is true, being mostly out of awareness. The generational conflict cycle may mean we need help in understanding its causes, effects, and what heals it.  One way to explore essentials to healing it is to enjoy a great read by Charles Whitfield, MD, researcher and psychotherapist from Atlanta, Georgia, titled, Boundaries and Relationships, Knowing, Protecting, and Enjoying the Self. For help with understanding these skills more experientially by using emotional, psychological, or spiritual disciplines, ask yourself, “Is it time to give a gift to myself and my children by seeing my own emotional and psychological pain as a classroom for learning about my inner life?” For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES! Before I cultivated a proper focus on addressing my own unmet emotional and spiritual needs, I was a smiling, charming and successful parent but was only one half alive, meeting only my physical and mental needs! We are here to live life fully and with joy. As parents, one way of taking steps toward that fullness of life is to explore our choices for healing, and when ready, to decide to begin to explore what it means to see parenting as a classroom for healing our own generational conflict cycle.


References

Miller, Alice (1984). Thou shalt not be Aware, society’s betrayal of the child    Toronto, Canada. Collins Publishers

Miller, Alice (1997).  Drama of the Gifted Child, the Search for the True Self   Garden City, New York.  Basic Books

Trout, Susan (1990).  To See Differently, Personal Growth and Being of Service Through Attitudinal Healing. Three Roses Press

Whitfield, Charles (1993).  Boundaries and Relationships, Knowing Protecting and Enjoying the Self.  Health Communications, Inc.

https://www.compassion.com/poverty/child-abuse.htm United Nations, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children. Toward a World Free From Violence: Global Survey on Violence against Children, October, 2013.

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The Voices Within, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Paul Hubbard, MA

Voice Dialogue work is a psychotherapy modality developed by Drs. Hal and Sidra Winkelman Stone. It has roots in Jungian psychology and involves accessing different sub-personalities like the inner child and the inner critic, among many others. Most people go through their lives more strongly identified with particular sub-personalities, or primary selves, while generally dis-identifying from other, more opposite sub-personalities, or disowned selves.

In Voice Dialogue work one learns to identify both their primary selves, and their disowned selves. The primary selves are the part of the personality that one tends to be more identified with. For example, the selves that help one to better fit into and/or be more successful within a social circle or in the world in general that one moves in.

In Jungian terminology, the disowned selves are a part of the shadow (Stone & Winkelman, 1989). The shadow represents the aspects of “ourselves that we do not know or refuse to know, both dark and light. It is the sum total of the positive and negative traits, feelings, beliefs, and potentials that we refuse to identify as our own.” It is the “part of us that is incompatible with who we think we are or who we are supposed to be.”

In our relationships, we tend to attract others who reflect the disowned aspects of ourselves. The more these various aspects have been disowned or more deeply buried in the unconscious the stronger the reaction tends to be when we encounter others who live out more overtly the disowned parts of ourselves. “We can be helpless victims to the multitude of relationships in our lives that reflect our disowned selves or we can accept the challenge of these relationships and ask: ‘How is this person or this situation, my teacher?’”

What is common to all sorts of relationships is that people get in bonding patterns which are parent-child energetic dynamics wherein one person tends to be more heavily identified with a parental role and the other person tends to be more heavily identified with a child role. Bonding patterns happen in all types of relationships, including, but not limited to romantic relationships and actual parent-child relationships. The parental sides tend to be more power oriented and the child sides tend more towards vulnerability.

One of the goals in therapy using voice dialogue work involves accessing the aware ego, which is the part of oneself that has some separation from the sub-personalities and can even, through increased awareness, be aware simultaneously of two or more very different parts of oneself, like parental and child aspects, or our power and vulnerable sides. This is not necessarily an easy process and can be hard work at times, but it is possible even though generally one is not aware of a bonding pattern until after it expresses. With development of the aware ego, one can avoid getting into bonding patterns as intensely and then get out of them more quickly when they do occur. A key to this awareness is understanding the role of vulnerability in a relationship and how a disowned or unconscious vulnerability can be a trigger for going into a bonding pattern. If only one of the two people in the bonding pattern has some awareness that a bonding pattern is happening then it is much easier to avoid it being so painful. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh is a good indicator of accessing the aware ego.


References

Richo, D. (1999). Shadow Dance. Boston, MA: Shambala

Stone, H. & S. Winkelman (1989). Embracing Our Selves. San Rafael, CA: New World Library

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School Refusal Solutions for Parents and Teachers

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By Christine Brady, M.A.,
Intern of Marriage & Family Therapy

What parent among us has not experienced the plaintive pleas of little ones, their little voices crying out, “I don’t want to go to school!” Sometimes these requests are due to vague physical complaints such as, “I don’t feel good”, or “My tummy hurts”. Other times, the range of reasons can vary from mean teachers to lack of friends, or perhaps an exam is scheduled for that day. For a lot of children these occurrences are few and far between. For others, this is a pattern which seems to happen almost daily, increasing family stress, and causing harried parents to count down the days until graduation (a daunting task if your child is in elementary school).  School refusal, if left unchecked, this pattern can escalate lead to chronic lateness, repeated absences, and consequences from truancy officials at school.

Consistently truant children often attempt to conceal their absence from parents and spend their day away from home while children typically termed as school refusers tend to stay home during all or part of the day with parental knowledge. School refusing children commonly become upset at the prospect of going to school and may show signs of fearfulness, crying, temper tantrums, unexplained physical symptoms, or other behaviors, such as stalling, missing the bus, or oversleeping. Children who are refusing to attend school may be attempting to avoid a fearful experience. Being bullied, the structure and discipline of the school setting are common reasons for avoidance. Another motivation for school refusal could be pursuing a positive experience like staying at home with access to video games, access to the internet, or gaining parental concern or attention.

School refusers can have anxiety around specific situations such as the bus ride, cafeteria, restrooms, or locker rooms thereby increasing the desire to avoid school. A child may or may not be able to identify their specific fear, only knowing that they don’t want to be at school because it makes them feel awful. Another group of school refusers may find the social or performance aspects of school such as interactions with peers, writing on the board, being called on in class, tests, or performance classes such as PE make the prospect of attending school frighteningly unbearable. Some children experience school as a place where they are constantly reminded that they are not good enough to achieve at a normal level, let alone, excel.

Dr. Haarman further relates in his book, School Refusal Behaviors, that the most important factor in increasing the likelihood of success with children who can’t or won’t go to school is to return to school as soon as possible. The longer the child avoids a normal school day routine, the more difficult and traumatic it will be to return to school.  A viable starting point for the effective exposure therapy of the child returning to regular school attendance may be to build tolerance to the anxiety provoking activity by attending some portion of the school day whether attending particular classes for a limited time period, or certain days until the child’s anxiety returns to near normal levels. This may require cooperation of school administration, such as a modified schedule change, a teacher change, or allowing the child to arrive late or leave early.

Treatment of School Refusal

This chart is adapted from research conducted by Kearney and Albano, identifies a number of possible intervention strategies most suited for each of the four types of school refusers.
Function Treatment Components
(crying, nausea, distress, sadness, and various phobias, i.e. bathrooms, cafeteria, teachers, bullies, etc.) Somatic control exercises such as breathing retraining and muscle relaxation

Gradual re-exposure to school

Reduce physical symptoms and anticipatory anxiety

Self-reinforcement, self-talk, self-esteem

To escape aversive social and evaluative situations (social phobia, test anxiety, shyness, lack of social skills) Role play restructuring of negative self-talk

Gradual exposure to real life situations

Social skills training and reduction of social anxiety

Coping strategy templates

To get attention  (tantrums, crying, clinging, separation anxiety) Parent training in contingency management

Clear parental messages

Evening and morning routines

Use of consequences for compliance/noncompliance

For positive tangible reinforcement  (lack of structure or rules, free access to reinforcement, avoidance of limits) Family contingency contracting to increase rewards for attending school and decrease the rewards for missing school

Curtail social and other activities for nonattendance

Alternative problem solving


References and Further Reading:

Albano, A.M., Chorpita, B.F., & Barlow, D.H. (2003). Childhood anxiety disorders. In E. Marsh and R. Barkley (Eds.), Child psychopathology (279-330).New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Berg, I. (1996). School avoidance, school phobia, and truancy. In: M. Lewis (ed.), Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins.

Berg, I. (1997). School refusal and truancy. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 76, 90-91

Bernstein, G.A., Helter, J.M., Burckhardt  C.M., & McMillan, M.H. (2001). Treatment of school refusal: one-year follow-up. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 206–213.

Broadwin, I.T. (1932). A contribution to the study of Truancy. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2, 253-259.

Coolidge, J.C., Hahn, P.B., & Peck, A.L. (1957). School Phobia: Neurotic crisis or way of life? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 27,296-306.

Dube, S.R. & Orpinas, P. (2009). Understanding excessive school absenteeism as school refusal behavior. Children and Schools, 31(2) 87-95.

Duckworth, K. & deBug, J. (1989). Inhibiting class cutting among high school students. High School Journal, 72, 188-195.

Evans, L.D. (2000). Functional School Refusal Subtypes: Anxiety, avoidance, and malingering. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 37(2), 183-191.

Fremont, W. P. (2003). School refusal in children and adolescents. American Family Physician, 68, 8, 1555-1560.

Haarman, G.B. (2012). School Refusal: Children who Can’t or Won’t go to School, Foundations: Education and Consultation Press. Louiseville, KY.

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Four Principles of Ecologically Sound Parenting in the New Age

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(Photo Credit: SUDIO 1ONE)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI #77792

Our modern society does not appear to be slowing down, and uncensored information is readily available, even among young children. But as technology continues to expand, so has a focus on parenting practices aimed at helping families navigate the use of digital devices in a mindful and balanced way.

More and more research reveals how family and social environments, whether in person or virtual, heavily impact the way children learn to understand the world. According to Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom by Sharon G. Mijares, PhD., moderating access to technology, while remaining connected to children through active participation, can positively influence the developing psychological health of youth today.

With this aim in mind, here are four principles of ecologically sound parenting in the new age that can create a more compassionate humanity in generations to come.

1. Attachment

In psychology and development theories, attachment is described as a central component of parenting because of its impact on positive pro-social behaviors in children. Secure attachment has shown to be an important aspect of a child’s developing personality and intrinsic security. Attachment-fostering activities are fairly global, such as breastfeeding, physical contact, talking, singing, playing, and attending promptly to a child’s needs. The concept of, “it takes a village,” adds to a sense of belonging and worthiness that children develop early. Fostering secure attachment in children inspires them to view the world as generally safe and to become more autonomous with less hindrance from fear.

2. Autonomy

As children begin to branch out and initiate new experiences on their own, the child benefits from his or her parent’s support in this endeavor. The encouragement of a child’s autonomy enhances creativity, imagination and wonder. In later adulthood, a child whose autonomy is nurtured will tend to feel more creative and solution oriented when presented with life on their own or with added familial responsibilities. An autonomous child is also more likely to explore the world outside of the family for a greater understanding of context.

3. Exploration

By fostering and supporting the explorative nature of a child’s experience, parents can bring new information into the family system. Children whose natural desire to explore is supported by primary caregivers and the larger family system have a natural advantage in the experience of expanding their awareness into many ways of viewing the world. The culminating experience of a truly diversified and differentiated individual that thinks beyond culture and color is the next evolution into the globalized human.

4. Globalization

A person that is globally minded has cultivated an aptitude for assimilating new information, promoting awareness, social androgyny, resource-based contribution, and creative solutions to global issues. A globalized family may creatively adopt spiritual rituals and practices from many cultures. Some tribal traditions and philosophies on family system and structures may come from many indigenous peoples and times in history with no distinction that any one way is superior to another. A globalized family may exhibit qualities that are collectivistic and individualistic depending on what would work most advantageously for the health and wellbeing of not only the family, but the larger context in which the family exists, spanning all the way out to the family’s footprint on the culture of their continent and the world.


References and Further Reading:

McGoldrick. M., Pearson, J. & Giordano, J. (2005). Ethnicity and family therapy. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN:9781593850203

Mijares, S. (2003). Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom. New York: Haworth Healing. Integrative Press. ISBN:0789017520

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The Importance of Social Support and Positive Self-Talk

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(Photo Credit: Pavla Zakova)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI

A pivotal developmental theorist, Lev Vygotsky, placed heavy emphasis on the social learning environment of children, and how important speech stimulation is to cognitive development. Vygotsky used the environment as a chief influence on child speech, language and skill development.

The connection between external and internal communication is particularly powerful when we realize how much our internal dialogue can influence emotional states. It would make sense that, as children, the patterns of internal communication will evolve through time, affecting human interactions throughout life significantly. Vygotsky proposed that this self-talk is also used as a means of self-regulating our external communications and behaviors.

Vygotsky held the belief that language is a tool that humans developed to interact with the social environment, a way that sprang from children communicating not only to get their needs met, but as way to exercise their imaginations in play, and to form relationships with others in the environment.

This ever-evolving tool of human language is also a means by which the environment and those interacting with it can help each other grow new skill sets in what Vygotsky termed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In this paradigm, people act as “scaffolding” to one another as the levels of the skill become more complex, and varying levels of skill support are adjusted to provide the intrinsic motivation to learn and practice the new skill set. This is similar to how people call upon mentors to enlarge their arena of professional or personal expertise in any given platform.

Vygotsky hypothesized about psychological systems in constant states of cohesion, and individuation, guiding the human mind to make comparisons about objects in the environment based on intuitive messages from the internal dialogue that is constantly running. The concept that this activity in the mind begins before any event happens in terms of real experience is a testament to the extraordinary processing capabilities that the mind has and continues to develop through the internal dialoguing process common to the human condition.

Using the concept of mindful and positive self-talk as an internal moderator can help to minimize the destructive emotional aspects of many mental disorders leading to more meaningful, present and authentic interactions with those around us.


References and Further Reading:

Zavershneva, E. (2010). The Way to Freedom: On the Publication of Documents from the Family.

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Keeping Kids Humble Around The Holidays

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(Photo Credit: Sunny Studio)

By Melanie Ernould, Psy.D.

I have a friend who is divorced and raising a 7-year-old daughter. He and his ex-wife are immersed in a battle to see who can “out fun” the other. While the girl is lovely and sweet, I can’t help but wonder how much entitlement this is building in her. I am the parent of a 3-year-old girl, and I want to raise her to be a person who cares about others more than her own pursuit of fun or entertainment. But I look around my house and see the shear amount of toys she already owns, because she has two doting parents in two separate households, and also several sets of doting grandparents, and I feel a little nervous. My interactions with this friend and his daughter have me thinking about this topic a lot, particularly with the blast of commercialism that we face during the holidays.

I also had a friend who, for her son’s birthday party, requested that guests bring a book to donate rather than gifts. I thought this was a wonderful idea for many reasons, but at the same time, I remember the pure joy and excitement I felt on those few days each year that I got to open a pile of presents just for me. I’m not sure I feel a child should be completely deprived of that experience either. So how do we raise children who get to experience this joy, but also understand exactly how lucky they are to experience it? How do we raise little people who actually enjoy giving to others as much as they enjoy taking for themselves? I’m not sure I can answer that definitively, but it is a continuous dance to figure out the right balance for each individual child.

Here are 6 ways to help keep your child grounded in humility & empathy:

  1. Don’t overdo it with gifts over the holidays. Sometimes when grandparents are involved, this is hard to avoid. Do your best. Carefully evaluate what your child actually needs. Consider more experience-based gifts, such as museum passes or a trip. Check out this Huffington Post blog post for 18 non-toy gift ideas for children.
  2. Consider family activities that are less about manufactured entertainment (think Disneyland) and more about spending quality time bonding and connecting with nature. Go on a hike, bake and cook, or do an art project together. For an excellent resource on ideas that are arranged by season, see Amanda Blake Soule’s The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons.
  3. Simplify your life in general. There are many, many things in our households that we don’t need. We think we need them, but we don’t. Re-evaluate your priorities and whittle down your stuff a bit. Clean out your closets and drawers and have your children help you donate items to charity. Start having a conversation about giving to others, and about the unnecessary possession of stuff. In addition, when you do need something, consider finding it used. I recently read this interesting blog entry about a family that happily simplified their lives.
  4. Model giving behaviors and humility. Apologize often, take responsibility and admit mistakes. As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. And the most effective lessons are through our own actions. Talk with your children about what you do for others such as volunteering and giving to charity. Additionally, when you express empathy to your children, they are more likely to grow up to be empathic individuals themselves. Research shows that parents who model empathic and caring behavior toward their children and others in front of their children are more likely to have children who demonstrate empathy and prosocial attitudes and behavior (Eisenberg-Berg, & Mussen, 1978; McDevitt, Lennon, & Kopriva, 1991; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, & King, 1979).
  5. Participate in volunteering activities with your family, and make them fun! Experience is also an incredibly effective teacher. We tend to isolate ourselves in our bubbles, ignorant to the plight of others. And in our society, it is easy to do so. Instead of turning a blind eye, expose your children to opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate. According to Wilson (2000), volunteering is associated with positive life-satisfaction, self-esteem, health, educational and occupational achievement, functional ability, and mortality. In addition, youth who volunteer are less likely to engage in problem behaviors such as school truancy and drug abuse.To make the lesson of giving stick, it is important to do this all together as a family and in a way that can be fun for your children. Check out CBS Local’s list of great family volunteer opportunities.
  6. Finally, have frequent conversations with your children about empathy and giving to others. When a conflict arises, help your child understand the position of the other person. In addition, read books together and ask them questions to get them thinking. Many books can be a starting point for a conversation involving perspective taking, but these books deal with the concept of empathy specifically:
  1. Hey, Little Ant (Hoose, Hoose, and Tilley, 1998)
  2. The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need (Berenstain & Berenstain, 1999)
  3. Those Shoes (Boelts & Jones, 2009)
  4. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla (Applegate, 2014)
  5. The Invisible Boy (Ludwig, 2013)
  6. Charlotte’s Web (White, 2006)
  7. Prairie Evers (Airgood, 2012)
  8. Junonia (Henkes, 2011)
  9. Mockingbird (Erkine, 2010)
  10. Each Kindness (Woodson & Lewis, 2012)
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 2004)

References and Further Reading:

Eisenberg-Berg, N., and Mussen, P. (1978). Empathy and moral development in in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 14(2), 185-186.

McDevitt, T. M.; Lennon, R.; and Kopriva, R. J. (1991). Adolescents’ perceptions of mothers’ and fathers’ prosocial actions and empathic responses. Youth and Society, 22(3), 387-409.

Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215-240.

Zahn-Waxler, C.; Radke-Yarrow, M.; and King, R. A. (1979). Child rearing and children’s prosocial initiations toward victims of distress. Child Development, 50(2), 319-330.

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