For most parents, the reward of a job well done is the knowledge they’ve raised kind children who have become successful, independent, and caring adults. Most adults will credit (or blame) their parents or guardians for being the most important architects of their future. Parents have a huge responsibility!
While there’s plenty of guidance available on how to raise successful and independent children, raising “caring kids” is a murkier topic. Fortunately, the experts at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education are tackling this topic through their Making Caring Common Project. According to their report, “These guideposts are supported by many studies and by the work that our various organizations have conducted over several decades with families across America.” Below is a recap of the expert advice from the Harvard project summarized in seven actionable and doable tips.
1. Create Respectful Loving Relationships with Your Children
If you want your children to be receptive to what you’re trying to teach them, you need to have a strong bond with them. More than anything, children crave undivided attention from their parents. Make an effort to carve out at least some one-to-one time each day to ask them about school or how their day went. Try to fit longer, special activities into your schedule. And try not to be distracted by your phone.
2. Practice What You Preach
It’s true that actions speak louder than words. Your children are far more likely to be caring, honest, and helpful if they see you practicing these behaviors. Be mindful of your attitude, actions, and words. Apologize when you fall short (as you sometimes will). Consider modeling compassionate behavior by volunteering with your child.
3. Emphasize the Importance of Integrity and Compassion
Kids need to get the message that the happiness of others is just as important as their own happiness. You may need to apply a tough-love approach at times. For example, if your child suddenly decides that his shy, long-time friend is boring and he doesn’t want to spend time with him anymore, insist that cutting off the friendship suddenly would be unkind. Explain that a kinder approach would be to continue the friendship, but perhaps invite the friend to activities where he’ll make new friends.
4. Create Caring Opportunities
When you want to help your children to succeed academically, you may hire a tutor. When you want your children to improve their sports skills, you encourage them to train and practice. When you want to raise caring children, you should create opportunities for them to nurture the necessary skills. For example, encourage your child to invite a shy child or a child who is new to the school over to play. Also encourage him to write thank-you notes and always show appreciation.
5. Help Your Children Gain a Broader Perspective
While you naturally want to create a safe cocoon-like environment for your children, you should also make them aware that not everyone is so lucky. This encourages them to learn empathy. You can easily accomplish this by using national or international news stories to start a conversation about struggles other children face.
6. Encourage Your Children to Take Action
Kids are naturally inquisitive and often keenly observant. Explain to your children that if they see another child being bullied or treated unfairly, they should never join in. On the contrary, they should step in to help the child, either by intervening themselves or telling an adult authority figure.
7. Help Your Children Regulate Negative Emotions
Negative feelings such as envy and anger are barriers to being caring and kind. Everyone experiences negative feelings. Teach your children how to identify those feelings and control them. Breathing exercises can help. One technique, called bunny breath, involves three quick nose sniffs followed by one long exhale from the nose. Encourage them to breathe like bunnies when they’re upset. It is surprisingly calming, and may even put a smile on their faces!