How Should I Begin: Growing Kids Who Care

Information Reprinted from Jenny Friedman’s The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering (pages 15-16) with permission from Robins Lane Press, subsidiary of Gryphon House, Inc., 800-638-0928,

Many parents have one goal in common when contemplating family volunteering: They want to raise caring, compassionate kids. But this is not always a given. Children’s differences in “caring behavior” are due in part to inborn temperamental differences. Some kids are simply more sociable and optimistic and less fearful than others. However, researchers have identified specific child-rearing practices that encourage the development of kind, caring behavior. Dr. Ervin Staub, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts and author of A Brighter Future: Raising Caring and Nonviolent Children suggests ways parents can encourage compassion:

  • Build a foundation of love and affection. From the first day, babies need responsive, predictable care from a loving caregiver. Let your kids know you understand what they’re feeling, allow them to express their opinions and emotions, share activities and praise good behavior. Children need to have their own emotional needs satisfied before they can reach out to others.
  • Point out the consequences of your child’s unkind behavior. Even if your child’s actions are unintentional, it’s important to explain how his or her hurtful behavior affected the injured party. (“It hurts Karen and makes her sad when you grab her doll. How would you feel if someone took your favorite toy?”) This goes beyond simply explaining that the behavior is wrong, but also providing an understanding of how the other person might be feeling. The tone in which you convey this information is important. Parents who are most effective are those who generally speak lovingly to their kids but use a serious and firm voice when describing the consequences of their child’s unkindness.
  • Also point out the consequences of your child’s kind behavior. Make this a part of your family’s discussions of any community service projects. For example, when you and your children make greeting cards to pass out at a veterans’ hospital, explain how receiving a card and a visit makes the patients feel cared for and assuages their loneliness. Let your children know how proud you are of any good deeds and describe just how their actions make a difference in other people’s lives.
  • Expand caring beyond your immediate circle. You can pass on the message of tolerance by including all types of people – of different religions, ethnic groups and lifestyles – in your circle of friends and acquaintances. And, whenever possible, have your children participate in activities that include a diverse group of kids.
  • Have your child practice caring. Arrange opportunities for your child to do good deeds. Reaching out to others through volunteering or other acts of kindness not only makes children mindful of other people’s needs, but also makes them aware of their own power to make a difference.
  • Model caring. Let your child see you reaching out to others. Hold the door for a woman pushing a stroller or allow another driver into a heavy line of traffic. Tell your children about your own volunteer work and explain why you’re taking food to a neighbor who’s ill. The more you exhibit the values of kindness and generosity, the more you’ll nourish them in your children.

For additional information on “Growing Kids Who Care,” check out the articles listed on the KidsHealth Website. Recommended articles on this site include “Community Service: A Family’s Guide to Getting Involved” and “Volunteering