Teaching preschoolers about “caring” is important in build character

Teaching the character trait of “caring” to young children can be accomplished by listening, modeling good manners and helping others.

Children will model the behavior they see in the adults who care for them. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Children will model the behavior they see in the adults who care for them. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Caring is one of the six pillars of character education including trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness and citizenship.

We are generally drawn to people who are thoughtful and compassionate and hope that our children will learn those values. Good character traits don’t just happen; they need to be taught and nurtured in children. Children will model the behavior they see in the adults who care for them. If you want your children to be caring of family, friends, the environment and those they have casual contact with, you must teach them by doing those exact things.

Caring can mean many things including: sharing your belongings, acting out in kindness, using please and thank you, showing that you care and being helpful. Here are some suggestions you might want to employ when teaching “caring” to young children:

  • Set a good example for the children in your life. You are your child’s first teacher and your children watch everything you do. If you are giving your time and talent to help others, your children will mimic your behavior.
  • Respond to your infant’s/toddler’s cries for assistance. When you attend to your child’s early needs you are showing them that you care about them.
  • When a young child shows frustration through hitting, biting and grabbing someone else’s belongings, you can explain to the child that “we need to be kind to others.” Explain that hitting hurts and model gentle touch.
  • Teach your child how to care for animals by letting them have a pet or have opportunities to interact with pets.
  • Use the “magic words” in your home routinely; saying  please and thank-you are great ways to teach children that you appreciate their assistance and cooperation.
  • Take opportunities to assist others in your family and community and find ways your child can assist. Even a toddler can bag homemade cookies for a neighbor in need. Very young children can color or paint the paper wrapping for a gift for a family member.

Children can learn caring skills through movies, stories and books. You may recall learning as a child about the kindness of the seven dwarfs in Snow White. There are many books for young children that teach the character trait of caring. Some children’s books that you might want to explore at your local library with your child are: “Do you Want to be my Friend” by Eric Carl, “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Pen, “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni, “The Mitten” by Alvin Tresselt, and “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown.

When reading a story with young children, take time to stop for questions and let the child be an active participant; retell the story after you’ve finished reading; learn finger plays and songs that support the story; draw pictures about the characters who showed “caring” traits. Read the stories and discuss if the characters are not showing they care for others or if they are caring for others through caring activities. Talk about stories with your children as you read them together.

Explore fun things you can do with your child that complement the story and provide learning additional learning opportunities. Take a look at the many story stretcher activities that are written to accompany the recommended books.

When you model and teach your child the life skill of caring you are helping to build character that counts!

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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