Teaching children to care was always the most important thing I taught my students. You see, before becoming a stay at home mom I was an elementary school teacher.
Of course I was all into education but I was even more into the character development side of my job. We ask so much of our children academically but sometimes forget to prepare them socially by teaching them things like caring, sharing and how to be kind.
As a teacher and now a parent, education will always be a big priority to me. But, the one thing that will always trump education is teaching children to care.
Caring, kindness and love are the things that are going to change this world. If we truly believe that “the children are our future” then we need to pass along these skills (that don’t always come naturally) along to them.
I’ve seen far too many children that treat others unkind. This ends up effecting their own self-esteem because they in turn don’t have any friends.
Then the child will usually start to act out even more, cause more trouble and just basically be unhappy. Eventually this causes their education to suffer along with every other aspect of their life.
This cycle can continue through adulthood if it’s never stopped. I know these seems dramatic but that’s how serious teaching children to care really is.
Children can have all the education in the world but If they don’t care about themselves are anyone else they will not go very far in life.
After all, who wants a really educated friend that doesn’t treat them well?! Or who (one day) wants a co-worker that is great at their job but cannot relate to anyone else (aka is a jerk)?!
p.s. This also includes teaching them to care about you, the parents!
Basically when we start teaching children to care we are showing them how to be better friends, siblings, students, workers, citizens and just better humans.
When it boils down to it teaching children to care is teaching them how to be kind. Unfortunately kindness is not always a skill that comes naturally.
That’s why us parents need to nurture their ability to be kind and show them how to care.
Thankfully it is not hard to teach kindness. It just takes some patience and intentional talk. Plus kindness on your end.
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Teaching Children to Care
Of course you child will not know what empathy is.
Webster says that empathy is, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”
I’d say that’s a little too wordy for our kids to comprehend but still so important for them to understand through actions.
That’s why we need to model empathy for them. A great way to do this is with visuals. Here are some examples of my preferred methods:
Say you are reading Corduroy. Start to talk with your child about Corduroy’s expression when the little girl does not take him home. Prompt questions to ask:
- Why do you think he is sad?
- What would make him happy?
- How would you help Corduroy?
The key when reading books is to get them thinking about the emotions in the book by using the characters expressions or words.
If the child is answering these questions they are the ones putting the thought into the feelings. This makes them more apt to feel something from their own experience.
Here are some great books to model empathy:
Our sweet dog has been the brunt of many empathy lessons.
Let’s say my son grabs her tail (sad but true).
That’s a perfect time for me to tell him that hurts her and then go over questions again to make him think about how that made the dog feel.
- She made a whimper when you pulled her tail. Do you think that hurt her?
- What are ways you can play that would make your dog happy?
- How can you make her feel better?
Then I like to also show empathy to the dog so my son can see how it looks.
I’ll do things like hug her and ask if she’s okay. Or say out loud the way that it made her feel when her tail was pulled. Then apologize that she felt that way.
This way he knows what it looks like to care about someone and that it matters how they feel.
This is definitely the most real way to model empathy with your child. And without a doubt an opportunity will arise when playing with a sibling or friend.
I’ll go with a sharing example because what child does not have trouble with sharing? Or what adult for that matter?!
Related: How to Teach a Toddler to Share
Ex: Suzi grabs a puzzle out of John’s hand. Johns starts to cry and Suzi just keeps on doing her puzzle.
This is a great time to interject and ask Suzi some questions:
- Why is John crying? (You want to see if she even understand what she just did. If she doesn’t explain to her that taking his puzzle made him feel sad.)
- How would you feel if someone took your puzzle?
- What could you have done instead of taking the puzzle?
- Let’s see if John is okay?
Again, if she doesn’t know what to do, you model it for her. “John are you okay? I’m sure that hurt your feelings when your puzzle was taken. I’m sorry it made you feel that way.” Then do some consoling.
Our children learn so much just by watching us. Let them see you being kind and caring. This teaches them to do the same thing.
Work on Social Skills
When you are out and about greet people with a smile, a hello or a wave. This teaches your children how to be social with other people.
Saying please and thank you are great ways to be kind and again saying these things does not come naturally to our children.
We work on this one a lot. I give you a snack, you say thank you. You want a snack, you say please.
It’s the little things but you are setting them up with social skills that will take them throughout their lives.
This is a huge one for me. I touched on it a little bit earlier. You are their best teacher they will ever have and they are literally watching every move you make!
When teaching our children to care we have to model kindness for them. This starts in the home. With the way you talk to your husband, family or friends. Your kids are listening.
They are even paying attention to how you talk to the dog and then they’ll mimic that.
I know no one is perfect and there will be times you mess up. Lord knows I mess up all the time!
But, when I do I tell my son the mistake I made. I might say, “Mommy did not talk nice to you. That was not a good choice. I’m sorry I got frustrated and raised my voice. Will you forgive me?”
Letting them know you make mistakes too helps them know that they are not alone.
Talk it Out
I’m big on communication. My mom always told me when I was growing up that, “she can’t help me if she doesn’t know what’s wrong.”
Since then I’ve pretty much been open with all my feelings (maybe too much at times). But, our children don’t know how to communicate yet.
So, ask them questions. Try to understand what is going with them so you can help teach them how to care.
Often times something may have happened to them so they are reacting. Then their reaction comes across as unkind. Try to understand they point of view.
When you talk it out with them you can figure out what happened in their day to make them react they way they did in certain situations.
Give them Opportunities to be Kind
This is by far the most impactful way of teaching children to care. When you give them the opportunity to be kind they reap the rewards of that good feeling.
My son and I have been using these Kindness Cards to make being a kind a habit.
These printable cards are super easy to use and full of 60 random acts of kindness. We pick one each day and make it a priority to complete it.
It’s so neat to see my son really take ownership of it and look for ways to complete his kindness card. So far our favorites have been:
- Say Hi to a Stranger.
- Call a family member to make them smile.
- Give someone a compliments.
- Write a Thank You card to a friend.
Here’s a quick, non professional, video we did for Insta Stories to give you a bit more of a background.
I’ve learned from teaching and mothering that kindness is all about the small things repeated over time.
Please don’t get me wrong in any of this. I am fully aware and accepting of the fact that I am not perfect and I have days that I am not the greatest model of kindness (at all). I have days where my patience is shot, I’m tired and I just can’t adult anymore.
But, I try to use those days as learning moments for both of us. Then once I figure out how I’m feeling I share the edited version with my son. Then he can see that mommy has not so great moments too (far too often actually).
Teaching children to care is a big deal! They are the ones that are going to make this world better or worse.
After all, our goal is to not only help them not to be “a jerk” but to also fill the world with more love and kindness. The two biggest things that will create change in our world.
I’ll leave you with this…You are the best mom your child could ever have and I know you are doing a great job mama!
Let’s go get ’em!