How setting limits teaches children empathy

Cynthia Whitham, Associate Director of the UCLA Parenting Program, shares advice on how setting limits for you children can teach them empathy
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How setting limits teaches children empathy

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Studies show that children who have had consistent, fair limits, actually have more empathy than those who haven't. I thought about this. What's the connection? Then it became pretty obvious. Think about when we set limits on children. You've got a young mom, breastfeeding their child, time to wean. Why? Mom would like her body back. In bed with parents, it's not really safe. You need to get into your own crib. Why? Parents need a good night sleep. They don't need cold little feet. You come home from Kindergarten with a cupcake and mom says, "You need to share it with little brother." Little brother is there. He matters, too. It occurred to me that most of the time when we set limits, we're saying, there's somebody else in the world who matters. It's not quite all about you. This is a hard message. It's a hard thing to learn. When we set limits, instead of feeling bad about them, we should probably consider, "I'm probably teaching my child something very important. I'm teaching them that somebody else matters."

Cynthia Whitham, Associate Director of the UCLA Parenting Program, shares advice on how setting limits for you children can teach them empathy

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Cynthia G. Whitham, LCSW

Director, UCLA Parenting & Children’s Friendship Program

Cynthia G. Whitham, LCSW, Director of the UCLA Parenting and Children’s Friendship Program, has been training parents for over 30 years. She is the author of two books, Win the Whining War & Other Skirmishes: A family peace plan, and The Answer is NO: Saying it & sticking to it, which have been translated into nine languages. In addition to her UCLA group classes, Ms. Whitham has a private practice on the east and west sides of Los Angeles. In 2000, she spent a month training clinicians at the National Institute of Mental Health of Japan. A lively speaker, Ms. Whitham does presentations and trainings for schools and organizations. Ms. Whitham raised two happy, healthy, and (relatively) well-behaved children (she thinks that may be the best credential of all). Daughter Miranda McLeod is a fiction author and is in a PhD program at Rutgers University. With sadness, Cynthia tells us that her son Kyle died in 2007, within months of graduating from San Francisco State University.

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