The caliber of a child’s parent-child interaction and the proximity of their parents significantly impact their prosocial orientation. Since early childhood, safe attachment lays the groundwork for later social and emotional development, and this bond starts at birth. Empathy, compassion, and a sense of moral obligation to others are more likely to emerge in kids who have stable bonds with their parents. Consider the power of this relationship. Do we want a world where people care about others or one where they care only for their own needs and pleasures?
A study of over 10,000 children found that adolescents and young children who experienced positive and affectionate relationships with their parents at age three were less likely to experience mental health issues later in life. They also found that the prosocial attitudes of these kids were elevated. These tendencies entail actions intended to help others and are considered desirable in society. This group includes helpfulness, volunteerism, charity, kindness, and empathy.
Parents, too, set the stage for later behavior as they exhibit a willingness to be caring and recognize when apologies are appropriate on their behalf. It is this sense of being willing to apologize on the part of parents that fosters a greater willingness for gratitude in children. And, in another study of almost 500 students with an average age just shy of 20, “Participants who rated their fathers and mothers as more caring reported higher levels of gratitude, greater past-positive time perspective and weaker past-negative time perspective. Moreover, participants who rated their mothers as more caring also reported a greater future time perspective.”
One of the important development areas in children takes place during adolescence, where empathy is primarily an important factor and prosocial behavior arises. It is during middle childhood that children have higher cognitive abilities in abstract reasoning, which helps them comprehend social interactions better. Included in these abilities are the ability to more readily take on other people’s viewpoints and the ability to infer potential motivations behind other people’s actions.
Obviously, parental burnout plays a part in raising children with a prosocial orientation, and emotional regulation is of prime consideration. Researchers have noted that interventions pertaining to empathy can be leveraged to optimize their efficacy. So, parents, understandably, have a place in our culture’s future drive to either care and empathize or to be aggressive and undercut others. It is no easy task. Which should it be? Although the answer seems evident, putting it into action on a daily basis is challenging.