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For Parents: How to Raise a Kid Who Cares
Boys sorting recycling

Photo courtesty Tim Lauer

The Caring Continuum:
How Caring for Others Develops

A child who cares is someone who learns how to help other people. This child feels he can make a difference, has ideas of what actions to take that can make a difference, and feels motivated to do them.

Children are not born with a fully-formed ability to care. This sensibility develops gradually and the experiences children have can build or undermine its development.

As parents, it can at times be frustrating watching our children "not care" or "not care enough." Learning how caring develops can help us foster their caring impulses. The insights below offer a picture of how this process develops over time.

The ability to care starts with infancy. When young babies are held, fed, comforted, smiled at and played with, they feel cared for and develop positive caring attitudes towards their environment. An early sign of caring is when a baby coos towards a mother, father, or caregiver.

Gradually young children learn to do things in caring ways. Between the ages of one and two, children begin to express caring through their actions. When they hug Mommy and Daddy and get a response, they are learning things they can do to make others happy and feel good. They play-act caring by hugging a baby doll or stuffed animal and becoming its caregiver.

Preschoolers start by caring mostly about themselves and only gradually gain awareness of the needs of others. Predominantly egocentric, they often can't understand the point of view of another person, who is upset. But they begin to understand when guided by caring parents and teachers. Through discussions they can begin to see "win-win" solutions to problems and how helping one another makes everyone feel good, because everyone's needs are met.

School-age children begin to balance caring for themselves with caring for others. While still egocentric, they begin to realize that it can feel good to help others, and start to see the positive effect they can have.

Being a caring child does not mean caring all the time. It does not mean that your caring child will never hate his sister, never grab the candy, or will be "good" all the time. Instead, a caring child will take caring actions and experience caring feelings integrated within a larger range of feelings and responses.

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