Raising empathic kids starts with being a values driven parent. It starts with being the “change you want to see in the world”, as Ghandi put it. If you value compassion, hard work, and health, lead with those values. If you make those values happen in your life, you will protect your child against the tide of self-absorbtion which is demolishing our families and communities. It will protect their bodies and minds and help you sleep better at night.
The trick is to figure out how to do the Values you cherish the most in the most infectious ways. What can we do or say or ask in order to nourish our kids’ innate love Cooperation or Helpfulness?
Imagine that you cooked dinner for your family. Let’s say it was a new recipe and you honestly wanted to know what parts of it were flavourful and what weren’t. You know what you like, but it really matters that the teenagers like it, too. Why? Well because as a parent you know that if your teens don’t like their dinners, they will load up on Pizzapops before you and your partner get home from work.
As a parent, what do you do in order to get the feedback from your teens that will help you keep them healthy?
Do you act like a brute: “I worked all day and then I came home and cooked you supper. I don’t care if you don’t like egg plant, you’re going to eat it!”
Does that match with your values? Probably not. Remember: your core value here is health. Your goal is to nourish your family including your microwave-capable children.
And does that speak their language? No, not unless they are Creature from the Harry Potter books, they probably won’t tune in to you if you focus on your culinary-heroism while demeaning them. Your kids won’t give you trophies for feeding them, that’s a pretty standard part of your job. They will appreciate you, though, if you teach them the value of a well made meal.
So, don’t focus on your self and don’t insult your kids. In order to nourish them you have to a) act in accordance with the value of health, and b) speak their language. To achieve your goals, you need to come up with actions that are led by your value of wanting to nourish them, and words which make them want to be nourished.
The first thing you’ll want to do is back up a step. Make the menu together as a family, or at least have each person suggest one thing they’d like to eat. That way, they have to eat it: They chose it! Then, if they are of driving age, make a shopping list with them and send them off to do some of the grocery shopping. (Or send your partner with them, but make sure the kid gets to drive.) They will probably not do a very good job of buying groceries, but that’s ok, they are just learning. You can teach them how to do a better job next time. (Note: If you’re a bit of a perfectionist and if your kids or partner are anything like my wife’s partner – that is, me – it will take a long time for them to learn how to buy groceries that meet your standard. – Nobody’s perfect and all these vital life-skills, from shopping, to meal prep, to cooking take time and practice to get good at. Value driven parenting means giving your kids and co-parent the chance to fail.)
Ok, now you are speaking their language and you are involving them in the process. They have helped plan and they have helped shop. This is a good thing? Why? Because it will keep everyone involved from becoming an entitled nitwit – including you.
And then, once you’ve cooked your dish, then what do you do and say to get useful feedback so maybe you can make it better next time? So that your family would rather eat at home than at A&W? What words do you use that speak their language that also lead to the information you need to outsmart all the marketing and convenience that undermine your values and threaten your children’s health?
I’ll answer this question next time.
Lindsey Jay Walsh, MMFT
Photo: Dan Gold on Upsplash