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Do your kids have Gemeinschaftsgefuhle? (it's good if they do)

6 September
Posted by:
Michael Grose

Kids are egocentric. The world revolves around them – quite rightfully too.

But with maturity they develop greater empathy for others. They begin to take into consideration the greater social good when they behave. Their social interest develops.

One of my parenting heroes, Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, referred to this development of social interest as Gemeinschaftsgefühle . I call it the development of a sense of ‘other’(it’s easier to pronounce, that’s for sure). Regardless of the name, social interest (Gemeinschaftsgehule) is something we all aspire to for our kids…..or should.

The sense of belonging and sense of well-being that kids get from heightened social interest is quite profound. Families are great places to develop social interest.

The flexibility principle I outlined in my new book Thriving! helps parents make sure that kids don’t become too self-absorbed or grow up with a false sense of entitlement.

Okay, some kids and adults are more self-centred than others. There’s nothing too much wrong with this as long as they know there are times when it’s not all about them. They need to be willing to share the spotlight with siblings at times.

Sometimes our parenting can stunt kids’ social interest. In extreme cases, it stops it. No expectation that kids help out at home is an example of such a practice that prevents Gemeinschaftsgefühle from developing.

Here are five parenting practices that help you develop a healthy measure of social interest in each of your kids:

1. Ask kids to help you and others without being paid. When we continuously pay kids for work they begin to think what’s in this for me. It's okay to pay for jobs sometimes, but even future entrepreneurs need to learn that helping others with no strings attached is a virtuous thing. ( My book One Step Ahead outlines principles and ideas to get kids helping without being paid and other ways to develop social interest in kids.)

2. Get kids to see both sides of a story when there’s a dispute. Seeing the world from your siblings viewpoint is the start of empathetic behavior. Interestingly, many bullies have an inability to empathise with others.

3. Encourage kids to volunteer. This is the ultimate in social interest that helps kids overcome perfectionism as well.

4. Insist kids join you for family meals and celebrations that may not directly involve them. Kids too easily can drop out of the family. You have to fight hard for this one.

5. Create conditions where kids have to consider others. My children when young were very boisterous, but they always quietened down when their elderly grandmother stayed over. Look for opportunities for kids to mix with the elderly, the sick or special needs kids to bring out their sense of other.

A measure of parenting success can be seen by the degree of cooperation and social interest that you can engender in children. In the pursuit of happy kids, you need to be always looking how you can move them down the road from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

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