Raising Caring Kids
Most parents start by encouraging children to share—and that’s a good start, agrees Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd. Weissbourd’s recent study, however, found that 80 percent of children believe their parents care more about their grades than whether they care about others.
If we want children to grow up caring and respectful, says Weissbourd, we need to raise them that way. He and his staff provide five strategies for raising kinder, more ethical children:
1. Make Kindness a Priority – Children need to balance their needs with the needs of others. Parents should encourage them to honor their commitments, try to work out disagreements, and address others respectively even when they are angry or tired.
2. Provide Opportunities to Practice – Pitching in around the house, helping a friend with homework, or sharing a favorite toy with a sibling are good ways to make caring second nature. You don’t need to reward them for doing routine chores, but do express pride and thanks when you see them doing something kind.
3. Expand Their Circle of Concern – Most children care about their own circle of family and friends. Encourage them to develop concern for people in the wider world. Encourage them to care for those who are needy or vulnerable. Use a TV or newspaper story to talk about the hardships faced by others.
4. Be a Role Model – Children learn by watching the actions of adults. Model caring by doing some community service. Involve your kids in donating gently used toys and clothing. Talk about an ethical dilemma, such as what would they do if they saw a classmate bullied or crying.
5. Help Them Learn to Manage Anger – The ability to care for others can be overwhelmed by anger, shame or envy. Children should learn that feelings are okay, but they must cope with them in productive ways. When your child is upset, ask him or her to stop, take a deep breath, exhale, and count to five. If you practice when they are calm, they will eventually learn how to better control their emotions.