Instilling Values – the Empathy Way

Padma Venkatraman

I am a Montessori teacher and have been running a school for the last 18 years in the US. And, I use every opportunity to instill values other than education in their young minds.

During one of my classes, I noticed that whenever a fire truck or an ambulance passed by our school, all these tiny tots, aged between 3 and 6 years, would quickly rush to the window to watch and then discuss amongst themselves who saw that first. And while I slowly chaperoned them back to the class, I will tell them why the fire truck and the ambulance were in a rush, and how so many lives depended on them.

And I asked them to make a wish for the suffering people.

Once one of the them asked me, how do I make a wish for others?

We decided to make a ‘wish flower’ to hold. The children were so happy and highly enthusiastic to paint a paper plate as a flower and attach popsicle sticks as stems. I could see a smile and pride in their cute faces.

After they were done creating these wish flowers, the first time they heard the ambulance, they quickly held the flower and closed their eyes wishing well for the person in trouble.

It was a sight to behold! I was in tears to see these innocent faces sincerely sending positive waves to people in trouble.

If we teach and model, empathy can be nurtured from a very young age.

In this world right now, there is such an imbalance of wealth. Children on one side get whatever they want and on the other side there is not even one meal a day. We should make every effort to educate our children to share their fraction of good fortune with others.

It is always a question of how and how much we should do. There is always a window of opportunity to instill great values in our child.

Let me share my own experience with my children. Back in 2002, we were moving into our new home. My children were running around the house, enjoying going up and down the stairs of our large two storied house with five bedrooms and a huge basement. Both my children were discussing and debating which bedroom to own. Our furniture and other things were arriving and we were all excited.

As the weather was good, I asked my children to go for a walk and meet other neighbors in the cul-de-sac. When they came back, my then 5-year-old son asked, “Mom, our house is the biggest house in the neighborhood. Are we rich?”.

This question took me and my husband by surprise. And also confused us.

What are we supposed to answer?  If we say yes, then we may be instilling arrogance in them. If we say no, would we be letting ourselves down in their perspective of social standing?

My husband quickly answered that we have to work very hard to earn this big house, thereby instilling the importance of hard work in the minds of my young ones. And with that the moment ended for them.

But, not for me.

I realized that we, as parents, needed to do a lot more. We needed to make them appreciate hard work along with inculcating a sense of sharing, caring and empathy towards those around them irrespective of their economic status. We realized that we would need to explain, mentor and guide them to understand the need to be grounded and rooted while doing well financially, economically and socially.

And, we had to catch them young!

We started volunteering in local community services along with the children. We invited differently abled and special children for their birthday parties and involved them in all games, interactions and conversations without making them feel different. We ensured they participated in community activities in school.

Whenever we visited India, they visited and did some services in blind school and old age homes. Several times in their young lives, they always had that first question in their minds. But our actions as a whole family answered it by itself!

Let us be a role model.

Wealth is a result of hard work. No one is superior to anyone. Our experience of parenthood resulted in both our sons to be in public service: one in military and other in policy development.

Giving money for charity is a good way to share wealth. But the best way is to do charity at home in front of your child. If you are buying clothes or school supplies for a needy person, take your child along and mention whom you are buying it for. Let your child give it with his or her own hand. Let them enjoy the act of giving and watch the reaction of the receiver. You can start this act from as young as 4 years of age.

But be careful not to go overboard. You can choose special days to do this. You can start celebrating birthdays, Deepavali, New Year with an act of giving.

Do the same act on your birthdays. Let them watch you giving a gift to someone else in need.

While we need to do these things to develop the respect for hard work and empathy, we – as parents – also need to be firm and say ‘No’.

When your child is demanding any luxurious things, be brave to say no and give alternatives. I recently listened to an incident narrated by Mrs. Sudha Murthy, Chairperson of Infosys Foundation. When her son wanted to celebrate his birthday in a five-star hotel, she refused and celebrated at home. She made him to donate his money to their car driver’s family.

She clearly chose to use that demand to drive in the value of money and its use, while developing empathy and not arrogance in her son’s mind.

As a parent, you must envision your child’s adulthood. What you want your child to be depends on what you practice with them in the first five years of life. 

Let us walk our talk…

Author Bio

Padma Venkatraman is the founder of Global Children Montessori School, Maryland, USA which she started in 2003 with the core focus of nurturing tiny tots in a holistic manner. An extremely passionate educator with close to 18+ years as a teacher, Padma holds a Masters Degree in Montessori Education along with Montessori Certification from Associate Montessori International.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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