Research in human development clearly shows that the seeds of empathy, caring, and compassion are present from early in life, but that to become caring, ethical people, children need adults to help them at every stage of childhood to nurture these seeds into full development.
We should work to cultivate children’s concern for others because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do, and also because when children can empathize with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful. They’ll have better relationships their entire lives, and strong relationships are a key ingredient of happiness.
In today’s workplace, success often depends on collaborating effectively with others, and children who are empathetic and socially aware are also better collaborators.
Below are a set of guideposts to raising caring, respectful, and ethical children, along with tips for putting them into action. These guideposts are supported by many studies and by the work that our various organizations have conducted over several decades with families across America.
- radio_button_unchecked* 1. Work to develop caring, loving relationships with your kids
- radio_button_uncheckedPlan regular, emotionally intimate time with your children
- radio_button_uncheckedEngage in meaningful conversation
- radio_button_unchecked“What was the best part of your day? The hardest part?”
- radio_button_unchecked“What did you accomplish today that you feel good about?”
- radio_button_unchecked“What’s something nice someone did for you today? What’s something nice you did?”
- radio_button_unchecked“What’s something you learned today—in school or outside of school?”
- radio_button_unchecked* 2. Be a strong moral role model and mentor
- radio_button_uncheckedPlan to engage in community service or find other ways of contributing to a community
- radio_button_uncheckedTalk with your child when you make a mistake that affects them
- radio_button_uncheckedWhen you’re finding it hard to be caring, reflect and consult with people you trust
- radio_button_uncheckedTake time to take care of yourself
- radio_button_unchecked* 3. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations
- radio_button_uncheckedConsider the daily messages you send to children about the importance of caring
- radio_button_uncheckedPrioritize caring when you talk with other key adults in your children’s lives
- radio_button_uncheckedEncourage kids to “work it out.”
- radio_button_unchecked* 4. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
- radio_button_uncheckedExpect children to routinely help with responsibilities
- radio_button_uncheckedMake caring and justice a focus
- radio_button_uncheckedConsider making expressing gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway
- radio_button_unchecked* 5. Expand your child's circle of concern
- radio_button_uncheckedEncourage children to consider the perspectives and feelings of those who may be vulnerable
- radio_button_uncheckedUse newspaper or TV stories to start conversations with children about other people’s hardships and challenges
- radio_button_uncheckedEmphasize with your child the importance of really listening to others
- radio_button_unchecked* 6. Promote children's ability to be ethical thinkers and positive change-makers in their communities
- radio_button_uncheckedEncourage children to take action against problems that affect them, such as cyberbullying or an unsafe street corner
- radio_button_uncheckedProvide opportunities for children to join causes
- radio_button_uncheckedEncourage children not just to “do for” others but to “do with” others
- radio_button_uncheckedStart a conversation about ethical dilemmas that arise on TV shows or give children ethical dilemmas to grapple with at meal times or in other situations
- radio_button_unchecked* 7. Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively
- radio_button_uncheckedName for children their difficult feelings such as frustration, sadness and anger and encourage them to talk to you about why they’re feeling that way
- radio_button_uncheckedPractice steps to self-control: stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Try it when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them together.
- radio_button_uncheckedPractice with your child how to resolve conflicts
- radio_button_uncheckedUse authority wisely to set clear boundaries. Explain how your limits are based on a reasonable and loving concern for your child’s welfare.