Teaching Kids to Care

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Most parents have enough on their plate just getting their kids through each day. By the time you’ve changed diapers, cooked meals, driven to school and activities, washed clothes, cleaned the house, helped with homework, worked your own job and walked the dog, there is hardly any time left in the day to consider something like teaching your kids to care. Caring seems as if it should come naturally, like it’s something that’s picked up in the course of a lifetime.

Children do learn many things by observing their parents’ behaviors, but it often takes a little extra effort to instill important values in a child’s developing personality and sense of self.

Caring and showing compassion not only benefit those on the receiving end, they benefit the giver, too: caring kids are better citizens and more satisfied with life.

Teaching Kids to Care: Nurturing Character and Compassion by Bettie B. Youngs, Joanne Wolf, Joani Wafer and Dawn Lehman discusses five “touchstones” or core principles that, when incorporated into kids’ lives, help them learn to care.

Interdependence, or the knowledge that we all need each other, is the first touchstone. Within families, neighborhoods and communities we all depend on one another. According to the book, “Children who develop the cooperative spirit of interdependence are more likely to care about others and to have that caring returned. When they feel confident in their ability to care for and relate to others, they are more likely to stand up for what they believe in and, when needed, can take a stand against what they don’t believe in.”

Connection with others breaks down barriers and allows children to feel respected and loved for who they are. “Children who reach out to others and build secure relationships will learn social skills, gain perspective, and develop greater empathy for others. Connection helps stave off feelings of rejection, alienation, isolation, and self-absorption,” say the authors.

The third touchstone is perspective, or the ability to see things from different points of view. Helping children recognize various perspectives builds understanding, compassion and tolerance for others. It also aids them in riding life’s rollercoaster without getting caught up in the highs or lows.

Living with gratitude makes children more positive toward themselves and others. According to Teaching Kids to Care, gratitude “helps stave off misplaced priorities, hopelessness, entitlement, negativity, and jealousy. With gratitude, children feel a sense of wonder. Children with grateful heart are more likely to experience inner joy and contentment in their lives and draw upon their soulful, spiritual nature. A child who is authentically grateful will more likely experience deep happiness and feel richly content, both of which can help them reap positive mental and physical health benefits.”

The final touchstone is inspiration, which ignites curiosity and the spirit of adventure. Inspired children are self-driven and excited about their lives. They tend to suffer less from boredom, laziness or depression.

Instilling interdependence, connection, perspective, gratitude and inspiration in children isn’t something that just happens. It is something that children learn (or don’t learn) every day from parents, teachers, peers and other important people in their lives. While modeling this sort of behavior is the best way to instill these five values (no pressure there!), there are specific things a parent can do to encourage their children to care.

Children can first learn to care in their own homes. By clearing their plates from the table or folding laundry, they are serving the greater good of the household. Instead of labeling these types of activities as “chores”, call them “service” and discuss with your children why service is important and how helping the household benefits everyone in it.

The next step is to move into the neighborhood. By raking a neighbor’s leaves, shoveling snow or spending time with someone who needs a friend, children start to understand basic concepts of old and young, sick and healthy, and rich and poor. Emphasize that giving goes both ways. People are not either the “helper” or the “helped”, we are all both.

As children get older they can donate clothes or other items to a charity. They can help choose and package food for a food drive, or perhaps go door-to-door collecting food. At any age, children and their parents can regularly name things they are grateful for. Voicing gratitude helps instill it in one’s psyche.

When children have mastered service to their families and neighbors, they are ready to move out into the larger world and make an impact. There are so many ways to volunteer, and so many benefits of volunteering. “Volunteerism teaches trustworthiness, respect, fairness, honesty, responsibility, citizenship, and caring. We know this is good stuff, and the kids who have volunteered will vouch for it. Kids quickly learn that the service they provide impacts real people, and they feel good about it,” say the authors of Teaching Kids to Care.

Choose a cause that your kids care about—animal welfare, feeding the hungry, aiding the abused and neglected—and then approach it as a family. Serving together, whether it be walking dogs at the animal shelter, preparing Christmas baskets at the food pantry or being a “Big Family” with Big Brothers Big Sisters, brings families closer together and encourages everyone to continue to give.

By setting an example, instilling the values of compassion and talking to your kids about service between loads of laundry or on the drive to school, you’ll go a long way toward teaching your kids to care.

Montana Parent

November 08

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