Michele Borba

Michele Borba

No doubt about it, youths with access to smartphones, tablets and certainly television have seen the troubling images that mark our nation’s recent climate of discord.

So says parenting expert Michele Borba, and she asserts that while we can’t change the times in which we live, parents can certainly impact the way in which their children respond.

“Kindness, respect and tolerance count,” said the California-based Borba, an educational psychologist and author of numerous books on parenting. “This is something you can cultivate, and we need to prioritize it ASAP.”

Borba’s assessment was rendered in light of the mid-August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that led to the death of a 32-year-old peaceful counter-protester, and to the incidents of intolerance Borba thinks are increasing nationwide.

She travels the globe speaking to school leaders and parents about how to help children succeed at life rather than just academically or athletically, and she’s convinced that it matters now more than ever.

Here are some of the tips she shares:

Reinforce the importance of character. “Make sure you add the other side of the report card to your agenda, (i.e.) ‘What kind things did you do today?’ not just, ‘What grade did you get?’”

Examine your own behavior. “What we say and do over and over matters. Take a moment and look at the framed images of your children on your mantel or your refrigerator. So often we focus on the spelling bee ribbon or the trophy. Make sure every once in a while there’s a picture of your child with his arm around his buddy. Fascinating studies have been conducted of people who were kindhearted and generous, and almost all of them said it was how they were raised: ‘My dad was always the epitome of kindness’ (for example).”

Voice your values. “Some families come up with a family mantra about what they stand for, such as ‘We believe in being kind.’”

Celebrate your children strategically. “How we praise our children can either increase their character or increase their narcissism. Instead of saying, ‘You’re so special,’ which is fine, point out character: ‘That was very kind’ or ‘That was really caring when you asked Grandma if she could hear or if she wanted you to repeat what you said.’ When children see themselves as kind and caring they become more kind and caring.”

Answer questions age appropriately. “Your first comment should be, ‘I’m glad you brought that up. I’m worried, too.’ Then ask them to share their viewpoint so you can (learn) what they’re actually hearing. Respond very specifically, with little nuggets of information. Depending on the child’s age or maturation, he may not understand the full (context) of what hate is or the (debate) about the Confederate flag. You can treat this as a history lesson.”

Most important, remember that one conversation is often not enough, said Borba, whose latest book is “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.”

“Kids may not say much right away, or may even end the first conversation,” she said. “But let them know you’re glad you had this talk and you’ll keep talking about it, because your child may be getting mixed information that counters what you say, and you want to be clear.”

Also be sure to balance these weighty conversations with examples of the good that is going on in the world, such as the images of courage reflecting the support rendered in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

Ultimately, Borba said, parents should center their efforts on “raising a child who shifts the focus from himself or herself (me) to caring collectively for others (we).

“Don’t make this into a big thing,” she said. “You can make this happen in little ongoing rituals, so that your child embraces the values of kindness and caring. That’s one of the greatest legacies we can leave our kids.”

Stacy Hawkins Adams is the mom of a son and daughter ages 16 and 19. She is also a Chesterfield County-based novelist, communications professional and volunteer child advocate. Contact her at Stacy@StacyHawkinsAdams.com.

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