A primary—if not the primary—concern of children is to find care, attention, and meaning in relationships. The connection between two people who care for each other is incredibly powerful. Supporting the bond between parent and child and the bond between child and child is integral.
Research—and firsthand experiences—tell us that children are inherently caring. Babies and toddlers may cry when someone is sad and share their stuffed animals as consolation. Preschoolers show caring through kind words and thoughtful gestures. Elementary school children readily understand and show caring, and they also realize the power of words, tone of voice, and kind—or unkind—actions.
What kids need is to see bright possibilities and people treating one another with care and acting with integrity, the basis for emotional wholeness. And children need to see parents model this caring behavior.
You’re probably already demonstrating to your child how you care. How many times have we, as parents, asked our child, “Are you OK?” after a skinned knee, making sure we say this while looking at our child, and gently touching her knee to comfort her. These actions that we consider second nature are what our children see and what they learn from. The caring question, the soft tone, the compassionate touch. We show kindness and concern in these moments, and our children are watching.
Children can also learn from stories what it means to be caring. Characters can exemplify caring behavior by making the right choices. They can do what a child thinks he should do or would want to do, without putting him in the situation itself. Similarly, kids can also learn how it feels to act unkindly or be made to feel bad, without taking personal emotional risks. When children read books or are read to, they can explore ideas in safe spaces.
Caring isn’t always about responding to pain or sadness. Caring can also mean strengthening what we excel at. Relationships grow strong when kids can interact and work together. A shared game or activity encourages bonding and connections. When you need two to succeed or accomplish a task, caring for each other becomes integral.
What parents need to help kids discover is that relationships are a source of joy worth caring for. Conflict can be resolved and connections maintained through kindness and careful thinking, and by showing respect for both self and others. It’s often the kind word or caring act that people remember. We often recall more strongly how someone made us feel, rather than what they did.
The kindness that children learn at home carries over to their school lives and how they care for others the rest of their lives. When children feel cared for, know they treat others well, and can trust themselves and those around them, they can become their best selves.