It will come as no surprise that good parenting really matters in developing self-regulated, empathetic children. Bob Sornson (author of Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach and Students Love to Learn, Fanatically Formative, and Meeting the Challenge) and Dr. John Medina (author of Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Babies) offer the following guidelines to help families:
- Set clear, consistent routines and expectations for children at home.
- Establish reasonable, daily chores for each child. These should benefit the entire family.
- Use respectful speech that is absent of anger or frustration. Do not yell unless a child is in danger. Avoid any use of sarcasm with children, as it is a form of “put down.”
- If arguing between adults is unavoidable, at times, be sure your child sees and hears how the argument is resolved and that the adults have “made up.”
- Establish a “thinking time routine” at home for reflecting upon a bad choice. This should provide time and space to calm down, think and make a better choice. Once that choice is made, the child should always be lovingly accepted back into the family activity.
- Notice and reinforce positive behaviors far more than negative ones. Avoid empty praise, however. So rather than saying, “I’m proud of you for feeding the dog,” say, “I see that you’re feeding the dog. That’s important for keeping her healthy and happy.”
- Teach your children to solve problems on their own. Celebrate challenges and mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning. When a child shares a problem, see it as an invitation to listen rather than to intervene. Ask, “What are you going to do about that?” instead of offering to solve the problem for the child. Every time a parent intervenes, a child is denied the opportunity to learn how to solve a problem, to gain experience in doing so and to develop the confidence of knowing, “I can do it.” If a child becomes truly stuck, it’s okay to ask if s/he would like a suggestion, but let the child do the work in actually solving the problem.
- Model self-regulation and resilience yourself. Set firm, clear limits with your children, but do so without anger, impatience or frustration. Sornson identifies this as the key above all else in developing self-regulated, empathetic children!
The Island School practices all of the above in our work with children every day. The work can be challenging for parents and teachers, alike, but it is also joyful and deeply rewarding to see the benefits in action every day in our classrooms. We deeply appreciate the partnership we share with parents in this good work with children.
Head of School