Teaching Kids the Importance of Caring

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Teaching Kids the Importance of CaringThe fifth core value in our character education integration series is one of my favorites: caring. Simply put, caring is thinking with our hearts. As we go deeper, we realize that caring begins with empathy, moves to compassion, and takes flight as kind acts. I’ve come to believe that empathy gives kindness its why.

So elevating empathy is key to setting the virtue of caring in motion. Point out how other people are feeling. Encourage your students to switch places with others, and walk in one another’s shoes. Ask questions like, “How does that person feel? What does that person need? What would you want in that situation?” Help students see situations from another’s point of view. Encourage them to read fiction. Show them pictures and find out what they think is happening in the scenes.

Once students can cognitively understand what another person is experiencing, they’ll be more likely to embrace that person’s need and want to help. That’s called compassion. The Dalai Lama defines compassion as “a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others, with a deep commitment to try to relieve it.” When students can feel someone else’s suffering, really feel it and want to do something about it, magical things are about to happen.

Once the head and the heart are on board, it’s time for the hands to take action. This is where kindness comes in. Find out from your students what they think the world might be like if we all did one kind thing each day. And how much better might it be if we all showed two kindnesses a day? Intentionally. On purpose. Just because. Ask students if they think they could be more purposeful about caring. Find out how—kids usually have some really cool ideas for helping one another out.

Need an idea to help your students get creative while strengthening their caring muscles? Launch an advertising campaign. Challenge students to write a slogan for a kindness T-shirt, bumper sticker, or billboard. What would it say? Some recent campaigns I’ve seen include:

  • Being kind never goes out of style.
  • Kind is the new cool.
  • Kind is the new pretty.
  • Kindness is one size fits all.

And while kindness knows no calendar, the upcoming holidays can serve as the perfect time to launch your real-life caring campaign. How do you give wings to the virtue of caring? Sometimes something as simple as a smile will suffice. Add a hug, a high five, or a handshake and see what happens. At other times, your kindness can be a bit more concrete: when was the last time you invited someone new to sit with you?

Try these bucket-filling ideas with your students:

  • Make smile cards to put under windshield wipers in the school parking lot.
  • Put nice notes under the pillows in your home.
  • Make thank-you notes for service people, like mail carriers or trash collectors.
  • Invite someone to color with you.
  • Put affirmations on sticky notes all around the school.
  • Invite someone new to walk or play with you.
  • Make toiletry kits to give to those challenged by homelessness.
  • Offer to rake leaves or shovel snow for someone.
  • Make bookmarks and leave them in the books you’ve checked out from the library.
  • Create get-well cards and ask your local children’s hospital to distribute them.
  • Donate a book to a child in need.

Use these ideas to positively change your workplace climate:

  • Send an inspirational text to a friend.
  • Fill the candy jar at work.
  • Send an inspirational song to someone.
  • Deliver a coffee or soft drink to a coworker.
  • Bake a loaf of quick bread to share.
  • Call someone just to say hello.
  • Offer to accompany someone to his or her next doctor’s appointment.
  • Post motivational messages on the marquee at work.

What else could you do to cultivate kindness at home?

It’s no secret that kindness sparks kindness. In fact, brain imaging has shown that a person who witnesses kindness gets the same helper’s high as the person who is committing the kind act. It creates a win-win for sure, because kindness ripples out and always comes back. When we encourage our future leaders to lift one another up with their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to truly think with their hearts, we will experience a kinder, gentler, and more peaceful world.

Consider the words of the English theologian Frederick William Faber: “No kind action ever stopped with itself. . . . One kind action leads to another. . . . The single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make fresh trees. . . . This is the greatest work which kindness does to others, that it makes them kind themselves.”

Kindness truly is the right kind of global warming. How will you warm the world today?

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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