We were all asked this question growing up, “What do you want to be?” Adults laugh as little ones express their desire to become cashiers, police officers, doctors, and so on. When my son was about 7 years old he wanted to be a police officer on the moon, who was also an artist! Encouraging our children to think about the future is very important, but there may be an even more important question that we should be asking.
Who do you want to be?
One question is asking them to choose their future profession, while the other is asking them to choose the character they desire to have. Maybe we don’t ask this question because we don’t view character in terms of something that we intentionally work toward. Possibly we don’t ask it because the culture is more concerned about what we become, or at least what we appear to be on the surface of social media. A quote by John Maxwell says, “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.”
When the author of UnSelfie, Michele Borba, was asked what kids really need to be happy and successful she answered with one word; Empathy! The following statistics were quoted during this same interview:
Teens are 30% less empathetic than 30 years ago
62% of school-age kids say their parents are too distracted
Children imitate both kind and selfish behaviors modeled by adults
How can we begin to cultivate kindness, empathy, and a concern for the well-being of others in our homes?
- Begin asking this important question: “Who do you want to be?” In my home we have 5 words written on a 3 foot chalkboard for everyone to see: Kindness, Integrity, Selfless, Loyalty, and Courage. I asked my husband and three children what characteristics they thought were most important in a person, and this is what we came up with. Everyday we intentionally remind ourselves that this is who we want to be to our world.
- Perspective taking: Children need to be able to step into the shoes of another in order to gain a better perspective. There are a lot of opportunities, every day, to help our children see things from the viewpoint of another. When someone is really rude and angry in public, we can take the time to respond with kindness instead of react because we are offended; explaining to our children that there could be 100 different reasons why that person is behaving that rudely. Take an intentional look around and look for ways to help your children see their world from the perspective of another.
- Make time to help others: Instead of having a movie night, create a family night where your kids are able to participate in volunteering. It’s possible they won’t be too happy about it at first, but with some consistent communication and perspective taking you may find they end up begging to do it again. Why? Because helping others just feels good! We don’t need science and statistics to prove that a self-centered life is a joyless life, but those who spend their time helping others are happy!
- Praise them for acts of kindness more than their accomplishments: It’s understandable to be proud of a child who comes home with an A+ on a report card, however it may be more important to hear them talk about how they have been treating others. When they display moral courage, it’s time to really show them how proud you are and let them talk about how it made them feel.
Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But wen we focus on others, our world expands. – Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
“In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8, NIV