How do you teach empathy? Richard Weissbourd, the co-faculty director of the Human Development Psychology Program at Harvard’s School of Education, studies that very question.
“When you look at the state of the country today, you can see the consequences of our having demoted kindness and concern for the common good,” says Weissbourd, who directs the university’s Making Caring Common Project, which centers on the moral and social development of children. So he and his team have set out to put kindness and concern for others “front and center in child raising.”
Weissbourd argues that kindness is a muscle like anything else, and parents need to lead by example. In his view, kids should be expected to do chores, contribute to their community and help out neighbors in need. “Kindness develops when we practice it all the time,” he explains.
“[Parents] shouldn’t say all the time, ‘The most important thing to me is that you’re happy,’” Weissbourd says. “You should say, ‘The most important thing to me is that you’re kind.’”