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40 Ways to Raise a Caring Child

Even if you don’t have all the answers, you can still raise a moral child.  In fact, children usually begin to learn values from the little things you do, like hugging them when they do well and teaching them to say “Thank you” even when they don’t want to.

“Kids learn right and wrong mainly by observing the actions of their parents,” says Michael Schulman, co-author of “Bringing Up a Moral Child” (Addison-Wesley, 1985).

Accordingly, here are 40 ways to raise a caring kid.

1. The magic word.  Teach your children “magic” words like “thank you,” “please” and “excuse me.”  Whenever they use one, act like you’re under their spell and quickly grant all polite requests, as long as they’re reasonable.

2. Tea for two.  Have a dress-up tea party with your children.  Ask them to invite their favorite stuffed animals.  Then try to outdo each other’s politeness.

3. Lend a hug.  Give a special hug or a pat on the head or shoulder when your children are being nice to someone or simply behaving.

4. Rock the vote.  Take your children along with you when you vote, and explain why it’s important to cast your ballot at election time.

5. Honesty policy.  Always answer your child’s questions truthfully.

6. Praise others.  When you and your children encounter helpful or polite people, make note of their kindness.

7. Pillow talk.  Every night, when you tuck your children in, ask them, “What was the best part of the day?” and “What was the hardest part of the day?”  Then zip your lips and listen to what’s on their minds without judging, lecturing or interrupting.

8. The if . . . then game.  If someone you don’t often see is about to visit your home, play an if . . . then game to help your children make guests feel welcome.  You could present the “if” part–“If Susan likes crayons . . .”–and have your children supply the “then”–” . . . then we can color.”

9. Sort and save.  Have your children put cans, bottles and newspapers in recycling bins.  Be environmentally creative, and encourage them to find new uses for old things.

10. Be kind–rewind.  Make sure your children see you rewinding videotapes, and explain why it’s considerate.

11. Set goals.  Help your children work toward realistic objectives such as saving money for a special toy or reading a certain number of books.

12. Give a hint.  When someone says “Hello” to your children or compliments them and they don’t respond, help them find the plite words–“Come say ‘Hello’ to Mrs. Jones, Ann.”

13. It’s cool to be kind.  Acknowledge any acts of kindness your children initiate–“It was nice of you to help your sister.”  Be sure to praise your children, as well as the action.

14. Fight fair.  When you and your spouse disagree, avoid making hostile, accusatory remarks, casting blame or calling each other names.  Find a way to compromise and make up.

15. Vent creatively.  When you’re angry, do something you’d like your children to do.  For example, draw a picture of how you  feel or rip up some old newspapers (or pop bubble wrap!) instead of lashing out.

16. Hands off.  Establish a no-hurting policy at home.  Send any overly aggressive child to a designated “cool-down” spot.

17. A friend in deed.  Take your children with you to visit and help care for people who are less fortunate.  Explain how good is makes you feel to help others.

18. Ask first.  Always ask permission before taking, using or throwing away something that belongs to your children.

19. Movie mania.  Plan to watch an inspiring movie such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Beauty and the Beast.”  Make popcorn.

20. Adjective actions.  Have a contest to see how many adjectives the family can think up to describe how people feel.  Set a goal of 50 word such as “joyful,” “cranky” and “hopeful,” and try to meet it.  Then post the list and keep adding to it.

21. Talk it out.  If another child starts crying on the playground, talk about it.  Ask your children, “How do you think that little boy is feeling right now?  What do you think made him unhappy?”

22. Local heroes.  Talk about people in your community who are doing good deeds.  Read aloud heartwarming newspaper stories.

23. If it doesn’t belong to you . . .  If your child steals a toy from school, explain why it’s wrong to keep it and have him/her give it back.

24. Role reversal.  Give your children a chance to see how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes:  For 10 to 15 minutes, let them pretend to be the parent, while you pretend to be a child.

25. New kid in town.  When someone new moves into your neighborhood, pay a “welcome” visit with your children and bring along a card or some cookies.

26. Be a clean team.  If you and your children notice litter while taking a walk, pick cup the garbage and put it in the trash.

27. Second chances.  If your children lie about some household episode, contain your anger and remind them ow important it is to tell the truth.  Then give them a second chance.  When they come clean, let your praise outweigh the punishment.

28. Cause and effect.  When practical, let your children feel the consequences of their mistakes–“If you leave your bike out in the rain, it gets rusty.”

29. Dollars and sense.  Help your children learn to manage money by giving them a weekly allowance and letting them decide how to spend it.

30. Do the right thing.  Admit to your children that it’s sometimes hard to be honest.  Praise them when they resist a strong temptation to cheat or lie.

31. Don’t send mixed messages.  Never ask your child to lie for you–“Tell her I’m not here” or “Don’t tell your dad I bought this.”
32. Thanks, I guess.  Teach your children to say “Thank you,” even for gifts they don’t love.  Pretend to give them some funny presents, then ask them to practice saying “Thank you.”

33. Never break a promise.  Don’t promise your child a punishment or reward that you cannot, will not, or do not deliver–“If you don’t clean up your room right now, you’ll never have another friend over again.”

34. Baby love.  Ask older children to help you care for your baby.  Have them suggest ways to soothe a crying baby.

35. Bench warmers.  Designate a chair as a “fighting bench” in your home.  When two kids fight, send them to the “bench,” where they must stay seated until each child can tell you what he/she did wrong.

36. Mix it up.  Join a play group or find an extracurricular activity for your child that includes people from different racial, religious or economic backgrounds.

37. A “hands-off” box.  To reduce battles over toys, have each child decorate a personal toy box.  Inside it, keep all the toys that they’d rather not share with siblings or friends who come over to play.  Make sure you leave some toys out for all the children to share.

38. Your lips are sealed.  When your children face difficult moral dilemmas, such as peer pressure to cheat or steal, resist the urge to supply all the answers. Instead, use role-play to help them think through their feelings and find their own solutions.

39. Television talk.  When you watch TV or movies, talk about the characters’ actions and their effect on others–“If that character hadn’t lied, he wouldn’t be in so much trouble now” or “It took a lot of courage for her to tell the truth, but it was worth it in the end.”

40. Fan mail.  When your child gives you a special present, send him/her a thank-you note through the mail.

(the above ideas were offered by Ann E. LaForge, a free-lance writer based in Durham, N.C.)