Building youth with the 5 C’s: Caring/compassion

How can adults provide youth with experiences that develop caring and compassion for others?

Lerner’s 5 C’s are the basis for positive youth development. The 5 C’s are competence, confidence, connection, caring/compassion and character. When a person has fully realized all five, a sixth C, contribution, is attained. This series by Michigan State University Extension defines each C and provides tips for adults to encourage the development of these assets.

The fourth C, caring/compassion, is defined as having a sense of sympathy and empathy for others. Caring and compassion are built over time. Young people often possess a great amount of empathy and sympathy for others, but have the capacity to grow in this area as they gain life experiences.

What can you do to build caring and compassion? Expose young people in your life to a variety of experiences and people. It is important to help the young person imagine what the life experience of someone else feels like. Think about it, when you hear that someone is sick, you sympathize because you have likely been sick at some point as well. When someone is chronically ill, you can empathize based on your experiences and imagining how a more significant illness might feel both physically and emotionally. If you have never been sick or thought about it, you might not be able to relate in the same way.

Volunteering together is a great way to develop caring. It is not enough to just volunteer, though. Young people will need your help to process what they did and why. For instance, if you volunteer with your child or mentee at a Habitat for Humanity build, you might talk about how the future home owners might be feeling and what this opportunity means to them. If you participate in a 5- kilometer race (5K) fundraiser together you can discuss the charity, who it supports and why that is significant. Another way to increase a young person’s capacity for caring is to help them process real life situations or those in movies or TV shows. Questions like, “How would you feel if that was you?” can encourage a young person to sympathize with others. You can also spend time together in a variety of settings and with people who have different life circumstances than the young person. To build on caring and compassion, you can begin to process what can be done to help others who are experiencing difficulty. Teach young people to express compassion through deeds, cards, kind words and random acts of kindness.

By helping a young person gain caring and compassion you contribute to positive youth development and help prepare a young person for success. The next article in this series will focus on the fifth C, character.

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