Help youth build the Five C’s: Competence, confidence, connection, character and compassion

Volunteers can take these simple steps to help youth build the Five C’s.

Man and girl planting a flower together

Young people thrive best when their families, friends, schools, neighbors, businesses and other community members support them in a variety of ways. Positive relationships with volunteers provide young people with chances to learn life skills such as goal setting, problem-solving and communicating. Volunteers can help young people move through the developmental stages and address difficulties along the way. One important way volunteers can help youth thrive is to help them build their Five C’s. According to “Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth” by Richard Lerner, the Five C’s are competence, confidence, connection, character and compassion.

The Five C’s aren’t tangible things you can give to young people. They’re skills and characteristics young people develop through their experiences and relationships. According to Zarrett and Lerner, young people who are able to display stronger evidence of having the Five C’s are considered to be thriving and more likely to be developmentally on target than those who do not. Volunteers have the potential to assist young people in building the Five C’s.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following ideas to help Michigan 4-H and other MSU Extension volunteers working with youth to help build the Five C’s.

  • Help youth learn new concepts for the projects or activities they are participating in.
  • Know youth names and address them by their preferred names and pronouns.
  • Have youth try something new.
  • Help youth work through the tough side of giving away a project (i.e., selling an animal, giving away a project they worked hard on).
  • Help youth record progress, no matter how small; each completed task is a job well done (i.e., maintain a “Done It List”).
  • Identify values or ethical standards a youth lives by. Do this with them. Write a non-negotiables list showing beliefs the youth will not alter. This helps alleviate peer pressure break downs.
  • Define confidence, competence, connection, character and compassion. Use one of these terms to define during a group meeting and discuss ways we show it. Align with the 4-H pledge and have youth brainstorm ways (or goals) to show these traits in the new 4-H year on paper. They can draw or write those ideas.
  • Use simple ice breaker activities in pairs or small groups to help young people talk through or work on a common activity or topic. Have them share out loud to the larger group their shared connection or how they worked together to achieve a common goal (building competence and confidence, building connections).
  • Know some things about the young person (hobbies, interests, events in school or family) and inquire about them with a genuine interest.
  • Recognize specific positive behaviors or accomplishments in competence, confidence or character of youth in the club/group.
  • Be compassionate in one’s interactions with youth (and others) and serve as a role model in that behavior.

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