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For Parents: How to Raise a Kid Who Cares
Girls planting seeds

Photo courtesty Tim Lauer

Practical Ways to Nurture Caring Kids

When you are encouraging kids to care, the goal is not to show children one "right" way to think about or respond to a problem. Instead, help them come up with strategies that make sense to them. Here are some ideas:

Help children take actions that grow out of their own concerns. Talk about what could be done to help solve problems. No matter how well-intentioned you are, don't tell your child what he must do.

Strategize tangible ways kids can make a difference.

  • Contribute a portion of their allowance or make a holiday gift to a cause they can understand. Look through your mail together from nonprofits and let them choose.
  • Gather old toys and clothing to give to a local charity.
  • Volunteer at local organizations that help those in need.
  • Give a gift of "service" to a parent, friend or grandparent.

Show children there are many ways to care. Children can demonstrate caring by doing household chores, by getting homework done and getting to bed on time, by finding ways to help neighborhood friends or schoolmates in need, and even by being a good sport when you lose a game.

Help kids deal with problems in inclusive ways. Don't expect children to always feel generous and try not to make them feel guilty about it. Comments like "you need to be nice" or "share with your brother" may promote more feelings of anger and resentment than caring. Instead, ask questions that inspire kids to think of solutions, such as: "What can we do if you both want the ball?"

Make sure children know it is the job of adults to make the world a safe place. They should not think that their own sense of safety and well-being is dependent on their own actions. "To reassure them and give perspective, you might discuss the fact that adults will always keep them safe, as everyone does their part in making a difference," advises Carlsson-Paige.

As children get older, talk about the causes of problems, not just the solutions. Discuss why a problem came about, what others are doing to try to solve it, and ask them to come up with their own solutions. Allow your kids to ask questions. "Research shows that children who do community service often discontinue unless they learn what caused a particular p problem or condition," advises Levin.

Some materials for this article were adapted from works by Diane Levin, including Remote Control Childhood, published by NAEYC. and the article, "From 'I Want It!' to 'I Can Do It!' Promoting Healthy Development in the Conusmer Culture," Exchange Magazine.