Is There a Science to Raising Selfless Children? This Doctor Says Yes
We all want to raise our children to be good people with strong character. But many parents wonder: How old do our children need to be to develop these traits? How young is too young? What should we do at home to help, or what should our childcare do? Enter Pediatrician and Parenting Expert, Dr. Laura Jana.
Dr. Jana is a board-certified pediatrician and proud mother of three. She’s also an award-winning parenting and children’s books author. She joined EverydayFamily’s Shiloh Johnson to debunk some misconceptions about what our kids can learn and when. See the full interview here.
In a recent national parent survey, an overwhelming majority (92%) believed that in today’s social media-focused world, nurturing positive character traits in children is more important than ever. Still, nearly half of parents (48%) think preschool is too young for children to start learning critical social-emotional skills, like generosity, getting along with others, and compassion. Dr. Jana disagrees. She argues that character development starts from the day they are born!
Parents can begin intentionally teaching positive character development from day one and can continue to nurture those positive traits throughout the first five years (and the rest of their lives). When people think of positive character development, they often think of traits like kindness, fairness, compassion, responsibility, and working well with others. But what is the foundation needed to support all of these positive traits? Dr. Jana says kids need to develop Me Skills first. Me Skills include self-control and self-awareness, and these skills need to be developed before a child can begin to think about others. Starting around two to three years of age, your child can start extending beyond Me Skills to learn We Skills, like reading other people and emotional intelligence. Dr. Jana recommends reading books with your child to help develop We Skills since books are a great place to explore how characters are feeling and why they feel that way.
So what else should we do at home with our kids to support positive character development? Dr. Jana stated that, “A caring, responsive adult plays a critical role in a child’s foundational development in this area.” Babies brains don’t start as sponges, they become sponges only when babies engage socially with a caring, responsive adults. So it’s true, parents or caretakers really are a baby’s first teacher. As Dr. Jana said, “We are the true CEOsb… Chief Engagement Officers!” The takeaway from this: Have caring, nurturing interactions with your child.
And, hand-in-hand with what we can do at home, what sorts of things should we look for in a childcare program to build positive character traits and support the initiatives we’ve started at home? Childcare needs to be nurturing and consistent. Childcare should be a partner with parents in continuing the care that is provided for the children at home. Childcare or preschool should fit your goals as a parent, and they should be nurturing, consistent, and developmentally appropriate.
Dr. Jana recalled that someone recently told her that when they took their toddler to childcare they were told that their toddler was selfish. Dr. Jana did not think this was an appropriate thing for them to have been told. “It’s not appropriate to say a toddler is selfish any more than it’s appropriate to worry about spoiling a baby,” Dr. Jana explained. “It’s developmentally appropriate for a toddler to be very focused on themselves and how they fit in the world and what they want and how they’re going to get it.” Until they reach two to three years of age, they won’t really have the We Skills to be unselfish.
Preschools and childcare are places for children to learn and practice skills, not a place to show that you are perfect at skills. Learning to play and interact and develop caring skills is what babies and toddlers should be doing. Play is a great way to develop We Skills.
Dr. Jana also has a new book coming out soon, The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today that will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow. Look for it in 2017, or check out some of her other books she's written.