Seattle, WA, USA, 14 April 2008 (By Paul Nyhan, Seattle Post Intelligencer) - The Dalai Lama dedicated much of the fourth day of his visit to perhaps the most powerful population for his compassion message -- parents.
The Tibetan spiritual leader offered them a stream of ideas and techniques on raising healthier children.
Instead of fuzzy statements, University of Washington researchers suggested parents do everything from making eye contact when talking to their kids to truly listening to them.
"Be actively involved in your child, in family life," said David Hawkins, founding director of the UW's Social Development Research Group.
Being active means everything from reading to your toddler to letting your teenager help you set up wi-fi in the house, the research group said.
The group's parenting tips are partly based on a 17-year research project that followed roughly 800 Seattle public school children through school and into their 30s.
The research offers encouraging results. For example, students who followed the group's Raising Healthy Children's program from first grade were more than twice as likely to attend college and far less likely to get pregnant by age 21.
Raising Healthy Children is actually a comprehensive strategy for parents, educators and kids. For parents, it's a style of clearly defined limits, positive reinforcement and -- perhaps most importantly -- an active dialogue between parent and child.
That dialogue requires one often overlooked parenting trait: listening. Children need to be heard, Hawkins argues, and to be actively involved in the work of raising a family.
"This is really important for dads -- to remember to recognize your children when they do what you expect them to do," said Hawkins, who helped lead a Seeds of Compassion panel Monday on "Raising Healthy Children: Building Strong Connections between Children, Families and Schools."
Hawkins suggests, for example, that families sit down together and plan a fun event, giving everyone a say and setting clear ground rules, such as not insulting any ideas.
The parenting strategy isn't about coddling children, but about "intentional" rather than "convenient" parenting.
Parents are encouraged to set consistent expectations and consequences, identify how they want their children to behave and how they don't, while also offering positive reinforcement.
The panelists underscored one challenge in parent education: getting parents to listen. While there has been an explosion of books, classes and workshops on child-rearing in recent years, Hawkins noted it can be tough to get parents to workshops.
"We have thrown a lot of ideas at parents," Hawkins said. We have "not necessarily given them a way to think about how to go about it."
Overall, the goal of the UW program is to create a healthy and positive bond between parents and their kids, which founders believe is the foundation of a strong family.
According to the Dalai Lama, that also is the most basic seed of compassion.