When I first heard about Malala Yousafzai -- the Pakistani teenager who captured the attention of the world when Taliban terrorists shot her in the head because she has been outspoken about the importance of educating girls -- I was blown away.
She has not only survived but is thriving and traveling the world continuing to talk about the importance of education. When asked what she would say to her attackers, Malala says she would tell her attackers that she wants their sons and daughters to be educated too. Malala even recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and left him speechless with her unselfishness and young wisdom. The real question is how do we raise children who are both empathetic and ambitions like Malala during this age of Miley Cyrus, TV housewives, cell phones, iPads, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?
The coming new year is the perfect time to address this so you can start now and make a resolution to bring these techniques into 2014 so your kids can thrive this year.
1. Start to teach kids when they are young: Early stimulation sets the stage for how children will learn and interact with others throughout life. A child's experiences, good or bad, influence the wiring of their brain and the connection in their nervous system. Loving interactions with caring adults strongly stimulate a child's brain, causing synapses to grow and existing connections to get stronger. Connections that are used become permanent. If a child receives little stimulation early on, the synapses will not develop, and the brain will make fewer connections. You can read more about this in a study done at the University of Maine on children and brain development
2. Teach them to care about more than just themselves and their circle of friends: Begin to teach them about other cultures and to instill in them the idea of sharing... not always easy with young children, but definitely do-able. You can start by teaching them about other cultures by making one day a week a journey into another country or culture. For example, what foods do they eat? What are the religious beliefs of the culture? What is their music and art like? Pick the ones that resonate with you most and start incorporating them into your daily life.
3. Raise children who care about humanitarian issues: Take your kids to help out in a soup kitchen, get them involved in raising money for victims of natural disasters, help them to pick a charity to volunteer with. It is crucial to teach kids EMPATHY. They need to learn how to put themselves in another's place; in other words, they have to be able to imagine how it might feel and be to lose a home, worry about money, live with a sick sister or brother. Empathy involves looking past one's own perspective in any given situation and understanding as best as possible the needs and experiences of another person. It has been shown that teenagers who are empathetic tend to be more purpose driven and tend to be more successful since they have a direct experience of how their actions can influence another.
4. Lead by example: Let your kids see that YOU donate time and money to causes you believe in. The holiday season needs to be a time of gratitude, so it's a great time to start if you don't practice this already. Teach your kids to feel appreciation and gratitude for what they already have.
5. Make a Giving Box: Let your kids contribute part of their allowance or earned money to help others. Encourage your kids to donate old clothes and toys. Let them create gifts for other's less fortunate by baking cookies, creating crafts, making a Christmas tree or Kwanza ornament or anything that uses their creativity. Create a family ritual that whenever you get something new you, recycle something old and pass it on to others who are less fortunate than you.
6. Create a Blessing Tree for the Holidays
Have family and friends each decorate an ornament with a prayer for the world and put them on a Blessing Tree: peace, love, kindness, joy, and play. Have them decorate a second ornament with the things they are grateful for. Save these and let them become a family tradition.
Let's end 2013 with a powerful intention to create more empathy, compassion and caring in the world and let us take it into 2014 in a big way. As the song goes, "let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
I would love to know what rituals and practices you do with your kids. Let's start a conversation.