Buckland Plants

How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute

Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. This includes honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy, and standing up for important principles of fairness and justice. It also means encouraging them to think about how their decisions impact a community—for example, before they quit a sports team, band, or friendship, we should ask them to consider the commitments they’ve made and encourage me to we them to try to work it out with other members of the group or community.

Young kids take cues from their parents, so it’s important to model how you want them to act. For example, if you get angry and yell at your child, you can teach them to express their feelings in a more appropriate way. And if your child does something good, praise them for it, but avoid rewarding bad behavior with treats like candy or extra screen time. Instead, be more specific about the positive behaviors you’re looking for and how they will feel when they’ve done them.

Help your children develop a sense of care for their own communities by asking them to think about the people they interact with on a daily basis—like the bus driver, teacher, and waitress—and how those interactions might affect their lives. Then you can encourage them to step outside of their immediate community and care for those who are struggling, whether through volunteering or simply by sharing a newspaper article about hardships in another country.

Children often struggle to prioritize caring for others because they haven’t developed a strong foundation of empathy and compassion. Developing these skills can help kids learn to be more generous, compassionate, forgiving, and supportive—and it can also make them happier and healthier.

To build a strong foundation of empathy and compassion, it’s important to teach your children that all people deserve respect and kindness. This starts by teaching them to treat everyone, including strangers, with the same level of courtesy as they would treat their friends and family. Then, as they grow older, you can challenge them to go even further and care for people who are different from them—for example, by visiting a nursing home or volunteering at a soup kitchen.

When your children are young, you can help them learn to be more respectful by limiting their exposure to media that depicts violence and cruelty. When you do need to let your children watch TV or movies, be sure to talk with them about the messages they’re getting and how they can be better by showing them what it looks like to speak respectfully and interact with other people in a kind way.

As your kids grow, it’s important to help them understand that they have a role in helping others, too. Encourage them to volunteer at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or nursing home, or to donate to a cause they care about. And, as they become teenagers and adults, you can teach them about the global needs of others by reading books together and discussing news articles on the internet.