Building Empathy, Respect and Kindness in Kids

Expert tips for parents as their children navigate the social and emotional journey of childhood.


Published:

Photo by Alonafoto/Shutterstock

Raising children involves more complexity; more stress and anxiety; and more need for trust, communication, and collaborative partnerships than anything else we do in our lives. During the many ups and downs and twists and turns of the parenting journey, it is important to remember that building empathy, respect and kindness in our children from the earliest ages is just as important as reading acquisition, math problem-solving and academic skill-building.

Based on the many lessons we’ve both learned in our times as teachers and school leaders, we offer these three considerations for parents as their children navigate the social and emotional journey of childhood and adolescence.


1. The Marathon vs. the Sprint — and Remembering the Finish Line

One big difference between adults and children involves perspective. Most of the time, we adults have it, while it’s something naturally missing in children. A friendship changes suddenly, a “first love” concludes painfully, someone behaves thoughtlessly or even cruelly — the accumulation of all of those common, difficult moments of childhood helped give us our mature, big-picture perspective as adults. However, for our children first encountering these crises, there’s often no careful consideration of the future or any bigger picture; there is simply only an acute awareness of the painful present.

In these moments — when those we love most in this world are inconsolable, devastated or hopeless, and we are sorely tempted to abandon our hard-earned, big-picture, adult perspective — we must remind ourselves that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Doing everything possible to ensure a child is happy every moment of his/her life is as unrealistic for us as it is detrimental to his/her future. Our response to our child’s moments of heartbreak or sadness ought to be loving and compassionate, but we must remain ever-mindful that our ultimate parenting “finish line” comes only when our child becomes an adult who can independently, joyfully and resiliently lead a meaningful life with purpose and love. That ought to be our chief goal as parents, not immediately fixing each unhappy moment.


2. Question Marks Are Often Better Than Periods and Exclamation Points

During those inevitable moments of heartbreak or sadness, how do we parents respond? One option employed by some parents is to attempt to impose the missing perspective on the perspective-less child: “Sweetheart, calm down. I’m sure they didn’t mean it,” or “This happens to lots of other people, too,” or “It’s not a big deal … not something to get so upset over.” On the other end of the spectrum, some parents may immediately adopt or even amplify the child’s point of view: “I can’t believe [he/she] did that! That is not acceptable, and I’m calling [his/her parents/the school] right now to address this immediately!

Rather than either of these approaches, often the best response to children during difficult moments involves lots of open questions that seek to discern both facts and feelings. “What, exactly, did [he/she] say or do?” “What happened beforehand and afterward?” “Did you see or hear this yourself, or did you learn about it from someone else?” “Why do you think it happened?” “Do other people … teachers or friends … know what happened, and what do they seem to think about it?” “What do you think ought to happen about this?” “What would make you feel better about this situation?” Questions show you care and are not dismissive. They may help your child take necessary steps to process and to better understand what is upsetting them, and they may even begin to help you both discern a positive path forward.


3. Practice Makes Permanent

Unlike, say, math — where the school introduces concepts and parents reinforce them at home — empathy, respect and kindness are best learned when intentionally instilled at home and then vigorously reinforced at school. Parents and schools, alike, should give children plenty of opportunities to consider different perspectives, to understand how reasonable people can disagree, to imagine what it must be like to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” and to help and to serve others. And just as it’s best to thoroughly practice any academic concept long before it shows up on the test, it’s far easier to routinely practice and reflect on empathy, respect and kindness before their limits are tested in the inevitable difficult social and emotional moments of childhood and adolescence.

We all hear about the devastating ramifications of bullying, and it is not to be taken lightly. However, real bullying is a very specific and narrowly-defined type of behavior involving intentional cruelty where the chief purpose is to create an imbalance of power. We must be cautious not to equate bullying with all unkind behavior, as bullying requires a very specific response by adults. A far more common reason for unkind behavior among children involves a failure of empathy — an offense is given and then the aggrieved victim immediately attributes the worst motives to the offender and responds in kind. Allies get involved, tears might be shed, meanness and retributions continue and can escalate without intervention. A child who has regularly practiced empathy — and for whom its value has been intentionally reinforced both at home and at school — is far more likely to better navigate such difficult moments, to help diffuse them and to help his/her friends navigate such moments, too.


In Conclusion

About the only thing more complicated than navigating the social and emotional experiences of childhood is being a parent who must lovingly help his/her child through all of those moments. Engaging with other parents, partnering with teachers and schools, and exchanging ideas like those we’ve shared in this blog can all help us on our journey. For more extensive discussion — and, frankly, far more wisdom than either of us can offer — we encourage you to join us as St. Timothy’s School and The Raleigh School co-sponsor an evening with bestselling author and award-winning psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 when he shares "Best Friends/Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children." This event will be held at The Raleigh School and is free and open to the public. (Register here.)

 

Tim Tinnesz is a father to three children and Head of School at St. Timothy’s School. St. Timothy’s is an Episcopal preparatory school for pre-K through grade 8 that emphasizes both challenging academics and a commitment to making a positive difference in our community and world.

Bud Lichtenstein is a father to two adult sons and Head of School at The Raleigh School. The Raleigh School is a cooperative community of children, parents and teachers from preschool through grade 5 that fosters a love of learning in an atmosphere of challenge, inquiry and respect.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

2019 Black History Month Celebrations in the Triangle

Find out where to celebrate African American history and culture during February.

Jan. 25-27 Fourth Friday Fire, African American Cultural Celebration, Quirky Music and Astronomy Days

Learn about nature around a campfire, celebrate African American culture, enjoy a musical and experience Astronomy Days.

Jan. 21-24: MLK Jr. Day Events, Mario Kart Tournament, Nature Nerds and Game Night

Honor Martin Luther King, Jr., compete in a Mario Kart tournament, explore nature and play favorite board games.
Edit Module

About this Blog

Guest Bloggers

Guests share their thoughts and opinions


About This Blog

Read thoughts, opinions and ideas from parent bloggers and parenting experts in our region.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

💕It's time to consign at Cary's BIGGEST Consignment sale - Voted BEST in the Triangle and Top 10 in the Nation! ✳️Register now at KidsEveryWEAR.com ✳️Read our website's consignor...

Cost: free

Where:
Cary Towne Center
1105 Walnut St
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Kids EveryWEAR Consignment Sale
Contact Name: Gail Walker
Website »

More information

Spend the afternoon helping to maintain and beautify the nature center. Ages 16 and older.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Hillsborough Classic Film Society hosts a series of classic, foreign, and independent film screenings once a month on alternating third and fourth Sundays, excluding holidays. Each screening is...

Cost: 0

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate community heroes on MLK Day at Marbles. From 10am-2pm, meet real community heroes like a paramedic, teacher and police officer. Be a hero by packing food for Backpack Buddies to...

Cost: $7 ages 1 and older

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Rale, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Spend the afternoon helping to maintain and beautify the area around Good Hope Farm in honor of MLK Jr. Day of Service. All ages. Volunteers age 15 and younger must be supervised by an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Good Hope Farm
1580 Morrisville Carpenter Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Winter can be a fun season if you are dressed properly for outdoor activities. Bundle up and come out for some nature exploration outdoors and indoor crafts. For ages 7-12 (kids drop off program)....

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Ages 2-5 enjoy movement and mindfulness. Learn basic yoga elements through age-appropriate breath-work techniques, games, storytelling, and creative visualization.

Cost: $15 or use your package/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Triangle families are invited to celebrate MLK Day with a family-friendly birthday party for Dr. King with interactive activities, crafts, performances, service projects, and birthday cake in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Northgate Mall
1058 W Club Blvd, Northgate Mall, I-85 Exit 176
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: MomsRising
Telephone: 919-696-0142
Contact Name: Beth Messersmith
Website »

More information

Ages 5-13 enjoy a one-hour yoga class designed to strengthen and stretch the entire body, balance the nervous system, improve body awareness, encourage the development of communication and social...

Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a dental bash, specially created for kids on MLK Day. Enjoy a magician, face painter and lots of arts and crafts. Parents can also learn how to help their child...

Cost: Free

Where:
Leesville Dental Studio
13220 Strickland Rd, Suite 166
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Telephone: 919-238-7729
Website »

More information

Book Harvest hosts the Dream Big Book Drive, a community-wide celebration of diversity, literacy and books for all children. Donate new or gently used children’s book, volunteer to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Book Harvest
Telephone: (252) 497-BOOK
Contact Name: Daniele Berman
Website »

More information

Head out to Lake Crabtree to celebrate "Squirrel Appreciation Day" and learn all about our most commonly seen mammal. Spy on the always entertaining grey squirrels that abound in the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Did you know that the gray squirrel is North Carolina's state mammal and that field research on them took place historically at Yates Mill Pond? Join us on "Squirrel Appreciation Day” as we...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 2-5 enjoy movement and mindfulness. Learn basic yoga elements through age-appropriate breath-work techniques, games, storytelling, and creative visualization and more.

Cost: $15/child, use your package/membership.

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Chapel Hill
781 Mt Carmel Church Rd
chapel hill, NC  27517
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11-17 create old-fashioned taffy and hard candy using ingredients like caramel, marshmallow and chocolate. Register online. Choose course #120978.

Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Connect with your baby, other parents and yourself during this adult-focused postpartum yoga class. Recommended for babies newborn to walking. Take a mat, a blanket for your little one, and...

Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East Street
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Expand your knowledge of our local flora and fauna by exploring a different area of the park each month. Join park staff as they "nerd out" over amphibians, birds, insects, spiders and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Meet other families in your community in a recreation setting. The play room will be reserved for parents and their young children. Sports and recreation equipment will be available...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sanderford Road Center
2623 Sanderford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department
Telephone: 919-831-1898
Contact Name: Adam Sproles
Website »

More information

Discover the joy of cooking with storybook characters. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online. Choose course #120080.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. Choose course #121605.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This after-school class for kids in grades 3-5 offers fun learning yoga poses and mindfulness techniques to reduce stress. Grades 3-5. 

Cost: $15/class, or use your class pass/membership.

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Chapel Hill
781 Mt. Carmel Church Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy the family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/person, $2 for ages 2 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy the family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/person, $2 for ages 2 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs learn fun facts about sports, music, movies and more. Register online. Choose course #121059.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Parents learn meaningful coping strategies to benefit themselves and their child. Register online. Choose course #121424.

Cost: $11/resident, $15/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us to read Jan Brett’s classic “The Mitten,” a whimsical story about a young boy, his white mittens, and the woodland creatures he encounters. Learn some knitting history and make your...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »

More information

Join us to read Jan Brett’s classic “The Mitten,” a whimsical story about a young boy, his white mittens, and the woodland creatures he encounters. Learn some knitting history and make your...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Youth ages 8-13 find out how not to be fooled by Fool’s Gold. Learn how geologists test minerals by using properties like hardness, streak, color, luster, and acid reactivity, then...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

Enjoy single rider snow tubing at Bond Park. Ages 5 and older. See website for 45-minute sessions. Registration required online for all sessions.

Cost: $19/person

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Last Fridays of the month, middle and high schoolers are invited to meet and chat about what they’ve read over snacks with the Teen Advisory Board. At each meeting, participants will vote on...

Cost: 0

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Hibernation, brumation, and estivation, oh my! Hibernation isn’t the only type of dormancy behavior and winter isn’t the only time of year animals might reduce their activity. Learn about these...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Explore Harry Potter's world with a magical craft, potions, trivia, wands and more. Ages 7-11. Register online with course #120889.

Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
150 Metro Park Dr.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy popcorn with a family-friendly movie while being comfy in your pajamas. Refreshments provided.

Cost: Free

Where:
Sanderford Road Center
2623 Sanderford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department
Telephone: 919-831-1898
Contact Name: Adam Sproles
Website »

More information

Enjoy fun, games, friendship and more every Friday.

Cost: Free

Where:
Sanderford Road Center
2623 Sanderford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department
Telephone: 919-831-1898
Contact Name: Adam Sproles
Website »

More information

This class is a chance for adventurous women to get together for a fun-filled workshop where we explore the basics of aerial silks. No need for a background in aerial yoga, this is a workshop...

Cost: $25

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 188-858-79530
Contact Name: hoa bui
Website »

More information

Go Fort and build! Pitch your tent then curl up with a good book. Bring your blankets and a flashlight. We’ll provide the s'mores!

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Teens learn tips to improve their ACT scores. Register online. 

Cost: $129.99

Where:
Wake Technical Community College – Southern Campus
9101 Fayetteville Rd
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Sponsor: Doorway to College Foundation
Contact Name: Kelsey Foster
Website »

More information

Enjoy single rider snow tubing at Bond Park. Ages 5 and older. See website for 45-minute sessions. Ages 5 and younger can take part in a parent-child snow tubing session on Saturday from...

Cost: $19/person

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

The museum partners with NASA and the Raleigh Astronomy Club for Astronomy Days, an annual event that features comet crafts, solar observing, lectures, rocket launches and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy performances, authentic Chinese food and family-friendly activities. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Dorton Arena, North Carolina State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate African-American history and culture with more than 75 musicians, storytellers, hip-hop dancers, chefs, historians, playwrights, authors, artists, re-enactors, a farmers market and more....

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in an all-ages benefit event for Jordan Prince in cooperation with the Athlete Recovery Fund and Sk8 Cary.  There will be a jam from 12pm - 6pm at Sk8 Cary and after-party /...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sk8 Cary
2040 NW Maynard Rd
Cary , NC
View map »


Sponsor: Athlete Recovery Fund - Sk8 Cary
Telephone: 919-802-6828
Contact Name: Erin Laskowich
Website »

More information

All ages with caregiver learn abut local birds and build a bird box to provide shelter an nesting for backyard birds. Register online. Choose course #121591.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Parents, educators, yoga teachers, counselors and others learn to teach yoga, meditation and mindfulness to teens and tweens to help them manage the stress in their lives.  These...

Cost: $60

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Ave., Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-720-4921
Contact Name: Jen Fisher
Website »

More information

Learn how to successfully navigate the college search, selection and application process. Ages 12 and older with parent. Register online with course #119878.

Cost: $7/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

The Teen Advisory Board invites you to meet up with other gamers to mingle, snack, and test your skills for prizes! Guests are welcome to bring their own controllers/fightsticks. To register visit...

Cost: 0

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Join us for a fun-filled evening learning about owls. We’ll learn what makes these raptors special and what sounds different species of owls make. We’ll dissect an owl pellet and go call to the...

Cost: $4

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood

More information

Saturday, January 26 & Sunday, January 27, 2019 Saturday: 9:00am–5:00pm Sunday: noon–5:00pm The Museum partners with NASA and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.