At times, being a parent can feel extremely overwhelming. It can feel like so much work to help our kids be the intelligent, happy, ambitious and overall successful individuals we want them to be. The good news is that research shows that there is one quality — caring — we can parent toward that gives our kids all those other benefits and more.
According to a report by Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, “... 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 empathic and socially aware are also better collaborators.”
Harvard University suggested seven tips for how to raise caring children:
1. Work to develop loving, caring relationships with your kids
Children take their parents’ lead. They’ll most effectively learn to treat others with care and respect when they are treated with care and respect themselves. Schedule regular one-on-one time with your kids. Make an effort to have meaningful conversations. Let your efforts to prioritize them be their inspiration for prioritizing deeper relationships with others.
2. Be a strong moral role model and mentor
Children desperately need role models. As their parent, you are your child’s first teacher and the best model of all the virtues your kids need to experience life as a gift. Make sure to practice honesty, fairness and caring in your own life. Of course, nobody’s perfect, so when stress or frustration gets the better of you, practice humility, self-awareness and honesty by showing your willingness to apologize and make a genuine effort to change.
3. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations
A big part of prioritizing caring is holding children to high ethical expectations. This can be done by teaching children to honor their commitments, to do the right thing even when it is hard, and to stand up for important principles of fairness and justice. It’s critical to insist that your kids speak and act respectfully, even if their peers aren’t behaving that way.
4. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” or at least, “practice makes progress.” Why not create opportunities for your child to practice caring and gratitude? Expect your children to participate in the household chores. Regularly start conversations with your children about the caring and uncaring acts they see in their daily lives or on television. Create a ritual of expressing thanks at dinner or bedtime. Studies show that people who cultivate 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.
5. Expand your child’s circle of concern
Children naturally empathize with a small group of family and friends. However, it is important to teach your child how to “zoom out” and care about those outside that circle, such as a new child in class or others in their community. Encouraging your child to consider the perspectives and feelings of the hurting people around them. Ask them to imagine what it would be like to be that person. Then, give your children simple ideas for taking action, like comforting a classmate who was teased or reaching out to a new student.
6. Promote children’s ability to be ethical thinkers and positive change-makers in their community
Children love to grapple with ethical questions. Help children be the leaders in modeling virtue by discussing various moral dilemmas. For instance, “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party if my best friend doesn’t like her?”
Such situations provide a dialogue to develop the skills of ethical thinking and leadership in your child.
7. Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively
Even the most caring child can become overwhelmed by feelings of anger, shame, envy etc., which can cause him to lose the ability to care for others. It’s important to teach children that, while these feelings are OK, there are ways to express our feelings that are useful and helpful, and ways that aren’t. Teach your child to identify his or her emotions, as well as how to resolve conflicts.
Raising caring kids is a big job, but as our Church teaches, we find ourselves in the act of caring for others. Help your kids discover the secret to a happy life by teaching them the importance of caring.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the host of More2Life on SiriusXM130 and author of Parenting With Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids. Discover more resources at: www.CatholicCounselors.com