The Golden Rule, Kindness, & Empathy

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You don’t have to be particularly religious to know and value those words.  In fact, David Koespell writes in Parenting Beyond Belief,

“Recent studies indicate that the Golden Rule is naturalistically based.  Studies of ape culture, and other animals, have shown that reciprocal altruism abounds in the natural world.”

Parents looking to introduce the universality of the Golden Rule may want to use The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper as a way of opening a discussion with their kids.  The picture book talks about the meaning of the words and shares various versions of the Golden Rule from religions around the world.  It is an opportunity to build religious literacy and talk about behavior, both of which are good things.  But for those who want to skip the “religious literacy” part of it this time, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller is a fun take on the topic with lots of kid-friendly humor and a relatable situation (new neighbors).

Koespell goes on to write,

“This general rule, simply stated, makes good sense, although there are also certain common-sense exceptions.  Teaching it may not only make good sense, but it is already acceptable to most children once they develop the psychological capacity for empathy and can envision themselves in the shoes of another. ‘Now how would you feel, Rayna, if Jordan did X to you?'”

Empathy.  Researcher Christine Carter talk about empathy a lot in her book Raising Happiness.  I know I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before (more than once actually), but I can’t help but recommend it again.  Raising Happiness is about emotional intelligence for parents and kids.  It is full of practical ideas for creating an emotionally healthy family life.  In particular, you can start  building empathy in young children just by teaching them to label their feelings.  In our family, we like to use “I feel” statements, and Ladybug has picked up on it too.  Carter suggests role-playing with kids and teach them the tools of mindfulness meditation at a young age.

How do you encourage empathy in your family?  Please share your ideas!

For more about religion and science, see my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!  Books reviewed from library copies.

Celebrating Questions

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post.  I am the parent of a three-year-old, which means an almost constant stream of “Why?” “What’s that?” or “What are you doing?”  I am not in the mood to celebrate questions.  I wish I had the patience of the mother elephant in Eve Bunting’s new picture book, Tweak Tweak, who has perfect answers at the ready for each of her little one’s seemingly endless questions about the world around them.

In my more patient moments, though, I really love my daughter’s inquisitive nature, and I want to encourage it.   Parenting Beyond Belief has this to say on questions:

“How we respond to the estimated 427,050 questions a child will ask between her second and fifth birthdays will surely have a greater impact on her orientation to the world outside her head than the thirteen years of school that follow.  Do we always respond with an answer–or sometimes with another question? . . . We have 427,050 chances to get it right, or 427, 050 chances to say ‘Because I said so,’  ‘ Because God says so,’ ‘Don’t concern yourself with that stuff,’ or something similarly fatal to the child’s ‘will to find out.’

I like Marcus Pfister’s newest book Questions, Questions to turn the table on my little one.  This lovely picture book appears simple at a glance.  Each spread has a brightly colored illustration and a rhyming couplet.  But if you look more closely, you will see that the illustrations have an interesting texture and often abstract connections to the text.  A brief author’s note provides more information on that.  The couplets are based on an Italian folksong.  Each asks a question about the natural world.  Some are more scientific; some are more fanciful.  Some might allow for faith, but all of them have the potential to open a discussion or, since no answers are contained in the book, inspire research or a science project.

But if you want to have some answers on hand, you might try Why?: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book About Nature, Science, and the World Around You by Catherine Ripley.  Everything a kid might ever wonder is here in this book answered simply in a double-page spread.  This book is spot-on for my three-year-old in terms of the questions and the answers.  I mean, “Why does it smell so good outside after it rains?” or “Why do I have to use the toilet and where does it go when I flush?” are probably not questions that most adults would spend much time on, but for preschoolers, they are strong points of interest.

Here’s to getting in the mood to celebrate questions and cultivating the patience to answer them. :)


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.