Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd has had published in the Washington Post an interesting project entitled “Making Caring Common” – specifically set up to look at how we aim to help teach kids to be kind. The results were eye-raising.
Around 80% of the youth in the study said that parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. In 2018, government figures in the UK noted that 176,000 children aged 4-7 were excluded from their school due to disruptive behaviour.
Richard Weissbourd and his report have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults.
Make caring for others a priority
Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others.
How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honouring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before children quit an activity, ask them to question their decision and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
Provide opportunities for children to practice caring
Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature.
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and implement books that emphasise thinking of others. For example, Bobby & Morph help the man who didn’t have a house.
Expand their circle of concern
Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language or someone who lives in a distant country.
How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable.
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as the bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable.