By Leanne Hall, psychologist

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a cultural shift towards a greater sense of community and connection.

According to new research in 2020, despite experiencing greater physical pain and related stress, Australians gave back more than ever last year, with nearly one in two providing care on a daily basis and 44% providing support for colleagues, neighbours or their local community.

This shift towards caring for others is encouraging news for adults, but how do we teach our kids to care for others?

As parents we want our kids to be happy. We need to be mindful however, that our kids don’t start to internalise the idea that their happiness is more important than other people’s.

Encouraging acts of kindness, and teaching kids how this makes other people feel is an important part of teaching empathy. It’s through empathy that caring and compassionate behaviour develops.

So how can we teach our kids to be kind and compassionate?

Psychologist Leanne Hall suggest parents offer gratitude when their kids help out with chores.

1. Encourage help seeking at home.

Start with chores, beginning with little things like setting the dinner table and making their bed. Rather than focussing on “rewarding” helpful behaviour, focus on the impact on others (e.g., “it really helps me when you make your bed and tidy your room. Thank you”). Showing gratitude can be more reinforcing in the long run than pocket money because kids learn that their behaviour can have a positive impact on how other people feel.

2. Encourage kids to look outside themselves and their immediate surroundings.

It’s normal for kids to be egocentric. Developmentally they tend to see themselves as the centre of their world. However, teaching about social justice can start early. Select a news story or issue and use it as a teaching opportunity. Asking kids to imagine how they would feel in that situation is a powerful way to instil empathy and compassion.

“Showing gratitude can be more reinforcing in the long run than pocket money because kids learn that their behaviour can have a positive impact on how other people feel.”

3. Make caring for others a family priority.

As Australians, we are very reluctant to ask for help – according to the research from Panadol 2021 Care Study, 55% of us state that we are not open to receiving help from others – so go out of your way as a family to help.

For example, do the gardening for your neighbour, have a charity bake sale, donate to a cause (and get your children involved in the selection) or spend some time at a homeless shelter. Showing kids that there are less fortunate people out there, and role modelling that there are things they can do that will make a difference are invaluable lessons in teaching kids how to care for others.

4. Encourage kids not to be bystanders.

Teach kids how and when to speak out against bullying and unkind behaviour and empower/encourage them to stand up for their peers.

Teaching kids to be aware of their own feelings is the first step in teaching them how to be aware of how other people feel. Once they make this important connection, teaching empathy becomes much easier, and with it, showing kids that they can make a positive difference in someone’s life.

Leanne Hall says through acts of kindness, and teaching kids how this makes other people feel is an important part of teaching empathy.

To hear stories from the inspiring Aussies Panadol are helping please visit  www.panadol.com.au/carecollective/.