In a world where violence and cruelty seem to be common and almost acceptable, many parents wonder what they can do to help their children to become kinder and gentler — to develop a sense of caring and compassion for others. Raising kids who care isn’t a solution to violence by itself, but it’s reasonable to worry that being exposed to a lot of violence — whether it’s on television or on the streets — could make your children hard and uncaring.
Parents, of course, can’t completely control all the things that affect their children’s lives. After all, children spend a lot of time out in the ‘real world,’ which can often be harsh, uncaring, or just plain unhappy. And children have their own personalities and characteristics that parents can’t change or control. But there are some things that a parent can do to encourage their children to become caring, fair, and responsible.
People sometimes think that children don’t really see the outside world — or other people — the way adults do, that they only view the world from their own eyes and in their own way. But is this true?
Researchers used to believe that a sense of real caring about others only came as people grow into adulthood. But now studies are finding that children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age. They react with concern when they see unhappiness, wanting to help or fix the problem.
And one study found that teenagers who were involved in helping others felt very positive about their lives and had high hopes for their own futures.
The most important thing you as a parent can do is to let your children know how much it means to you that they behave with kindness and responsibility. When you see your child doing something that you think is thoughtless or cruel, you should let them know right away that you don’t want them doing that. Speak to your child firmly and honestly, and keep your focus on the act, not on the child personally — something along the lines of ‘What you did is not very nice’ rather than ‘YOU are not very nice.’
This emotional reaction needs to be accompanied by information–some explanation of why you disapprove — for example, ‘Look, Joey is crying. He’s crying because you took his toy away. That wasn’t a very nice thing to do!’ or ‘It hurts the cat when you do that; that’s why he scratched you. It isn’t kind, and I don’t want you to do that any more!’ It’s important to let children know how deeply you feel about their behavior toward others. If they see that you have a real emotional commitment to something, it’s more likely that the issue will become important to them, too.
Be frank, honest and upfront with your kids about what kind of behavior you do and don’t like. Keep your comments short and to the point; the idea is to teach them, not to make them feel guilty.
According to another study there are two kinds of parental role modeling that help teach children to be caring: kindness to others and kindness to the child.
In other words, our actions speak louder than words.
If you are consistently caring and compassionate, it’s more likely that your children will be, too. Children watch their parents, and other adults, for clues on how to behave.