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Raising Changemakers

While the world changes around us, character is always constant.

By Mary O'Donohue

Mary O’Donohue is the best-selling author of the award winning parenting book, When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, and has been featured in Parents Magazine, AOL’s Parent Dish, and contributes regularly to The Chicago Tribune’s Parent ‘Hood column. Mary has appeared on numerous TV programs including “The Better Show” in New York and is interviewed regularly on radio shows across the country. In addition, Mary speaks to enthusiastic audiences about the power of extraordinary character from childhood onward. Mary and her husband Jim have been married for seventeen years and have two children, Connor and Grace; a teen and a ‘tween. In addition to writing, Mary enjoys a successful career in television production, including 12 seasons with the Oprah Winfrey Show. She is an avid traveler, having spent time in China, Turkey, Greece, Malta, Spain, Ireland, England, Wales, France, and Italy. Mary donates a portion of her author’s net profits to charities benefiting families and education. She can be reached through her website:

April 2, 2013

As a mother of two children, and indeed as a citizen of the world, I believe it is imperative that we instill empathy in our kids. I love to do practical exercises like the one I recently wrote about in which family members literally take a walk in someone else's shoes. It's quite memorable for all involved and gives each member of the family a true sense of what it would be like to experience life from a sibling's, parent's, or child's point of view. I recommend role-playing, daily kindness practices, and compassionate parenting as well. When children are on the receiving end of kindness - especially from a parent - it illustrates for them how wonderful it feels to be treated with empathy. They feel valued and start to see life through the lens of empathy because they are being raised in a way in which their feelings and point of view are thoughtfully considered.

I also believe it is critical to help children develop a strong sense of agency so they realize they can make a positive impact in the world. Children can be powerful if we let them see themselves in that light. American children live in a society in which money is mistakenly seen as the only barometer of power. But it's simply not true. Money can be taken away. Character cannot. The true power in the world comes from character.

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If we instill self-respect in our children, then we give them a strong foundation upon which to build their lives. If we live respectfully and teach our children to do the same - to go above and beyond tolerance for others - then we have raised children who will honor the humanity of all people. By instilling kindness, we empower our children to put compassion into action in their everyday lives as children and into adulthood. In short, we have raised changemakers, children who will make a difference in the world.

I often say to my children, "Know who you are." When you know who you are, you can rely on that like a touchstone that will never fail you. If you are tempted to lie, but you know you are an honest person, you will tell the truth. The situation does not factor into it.

The world may be changing ever faster, but character is a constant.

Image Source: Creative Commons