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There is no start point to making a difference

By Gema Alvarado-Guerrero

Parenting Resource Center Executive Director

When I was younger, I wanted to conquer the world. Being the invincible, determined, and all-knowing teenager that I was (NOT-ask my mom); I was determined to make a difference in this world.

However, I always mentally categorized making a difference in the world as a post-marked agenda item for once I graduated college. Now that I think about it, I believe that I was unintentionally taught to grow up and be someone; getting recognition for my work once I a) received my degree and b) received a job title that goes with it. I thought about being a change agent as a job, which is why I chose to go into the social work profession.

In my mind, having this degree would enable me to help others. And, according to a recent study by Harvard University, I’m not the only one. In this study, 10,000 middle and high school students were asked to rank achieving at a high level, happiness, or caring for others in order of importance. Surprisingly, 80 percent of students ranked achievement or happiness over caring for others.

So why am I saying this, being that this is not a bibliography of myself? Because there is no start date to making a difference, and it is important for our children to know this. One of the best gifts parents can give their children is the understanding and importance of empathy, and provide opportunities to practice this crucial value. Empathy, the ability to understand the needs of others, creates a sound foundation for ethical actions, goodwill relationships and is vital to becoming an effective leader.

In fact, read articles pertaining to effective leaders and you will find that being empathetic is one of the top qualities effective leaders will demonstrate.

With all this being said, how can you, as a parent or caregiver instill this value in children? Start off by showing empathy towards them. Listen to them not just in what they say, but also what they don’t say.

How many times have you asked your children how there day at school was, only to hear them say “fine” but look down at their feet? What does this mean? Dig a little deeper. It will show your children that you recognize when there day was really not fine, and that you have a genuine interest in their well-being.

A second thing you can do is establish caring for others as a priority in your household. Help them understand that the world isn’t just them, and that there are others who have needs. Ask those around you for volunteer opportunities in which you and your children can participate in.

If you don’t know how to get started, you can contact the United Way who is always seeking volunteers.

Lastly, talk about ethical dilemmas. This will enhance children to view things from various perspectives. Do you ever have your child share the latest gossip at school with you? I don’t get much of it now, as my child is in kindergarten and the hottest gossip revolves around who put their mouth on the water fountain spout, but I know that I will get there.

What will I say when he starts talking about the outliers in his class, the students who get made fun of because of their disheveled appearance, the student who is habitually tardy, or that student that gets made fun of when he can’t read as proficient as others? It is up to us as parents to help create change agents at a young level.

Gema Alvarado-Guerrero is the Executive Director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin. If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about family challenges, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.