Raising Caring Children
1. Children and youth need ongoing opportunities to practice caring and helpfulness, sometimes with guidance from adults. Children are not simply born good or bad and we should never give up on them. A good person is something one can always become; throughout life we can develop our capacities for caring and fairness as well as many other social, emotional, and ethical capacities. Learning to be caring and to lead an ethical life is like learning to play an instrument or hone a craft. Daily repetition—whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, having a classroom job, or working on a project on homelessness—and increasing challenge make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. With guidance from adults and practice, young people can also develop the skills and courage to know when and how to intervene in situations when they and others are imperiled. They can become effective “upstanders” or “first responders.”
2. Children and youth need to learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering multiple perspectives. It is by zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, or the school custodian), that young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society.
3. Children and youth need strong moral role models. Being a role model doesn’t mean that we need to be perfect or have all the answers. It means grappling with our flaws, acknowledging our mistakes, listening to our children and students, and connecting our values to their ways of understanding the world. It means that we, too, need to continually practice and zoom in and out, cultivating our capacities for care, widening our circles of concern, and deepening our understanding of fairness and justice.
4. Children need to be guided in managing destructive feelings. Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. We need to teach children that all feelings are ok, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
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