Research in human development clearly shows that the seeds of empathy, caring, and compassion are present from early in life, but that to become caring, ethical people, children need adults to help them at every stage of childhood to nurture these seeds into full development.
We should work to cultivate children’s concern for others because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do, and also because 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.
Below are a set of guideposts to raising caring, respectful, and ethical children, along with tips for putting them into action. These guideposts are supported by many studies and by the work that our various organizations have conducted over several decades with families across America.
7Work to develop caring, loving relationships with your kids.
Children learn caring and respect when they are treated that way. When our children feel loved, they also become attached to us. That attachment makes them more receptive to our values and teaching.
Loving our children takes many forms, such as tending to their physical and emotional needs, providing a stable and secure family environment, showing affection, respecting their individual personalities, taking a genuine interest in their lives, talking about things that matter, and affirming their efforts and achievements.
- Regular time together. Plan regular, emotionally intimate time with your children. Some parents and caretakers do this through nightly bedtime reading or other shared activity. Some build one-on-one time with their children into their weekly schedules rather than leaving it to chance. You might, for example, spend one Saturday afternoon a month with each of your children doing something you both enjoy.
- Meaningful conversation. Whenever you have time with your child, take turns asking each other questions that bring out your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Ask questions such as:
- “What was the best part of your day? The hardest part?”
- “What did you accomplish today that you feel good about?”
- “What’s something nice someone did for you today? What’s something nice you did?”
- “What’s something you learned today—in school or outside of school?”