Encouraging Children to Care
But developing these behaviours and mindsets in all children isn’t always the simplest task. We’ll continue to add resources to DiscoverMDI as we review them, but to start, here’s a brief primer; keep these four methods in mind as you interact with children in the middle years.
The first way to foster a sense of care is to model caring yourself. Genuinely expressing care for your students, children, neighbours, team players or program participants is the best way children learn how to care. Being mindful of your own knee-jerk reactions – and using them as teaching opportunities – can begin to give children their own language for understanding and managing their emotions and behaviours.
When children inevitably make mistakes, make the most generous assumption about their intentions. A child may have been feeling afraid, angry or unsure about how to act. Research tells us that children who bully need to have their emotions acknowledged and validated. Acknowledge, “I know you were feeling upset and did not mean to hurt him/her.” While firmly not tolerating bullying or anti-social behavior, this approach recognizes children’s internal struggle and confirms their potential, making it easier for them to exhibit prosocial behaviour in the future.
Give children opportunities to care for each other. Current environments for children don’t always encourage this: in academic or athletic settings, we often stress competition between children and signal that victory is more important than caring. When we do attempt to inculcate caring behaviour, we often take a negative tack: imposing punishments and shaming children for transgressions, rather than building space for kids to demonstrate pro-social actions. Create cooperative activities where children can practice helping each other and empathizing with others. Recognize the individual strengths each child can offer others, such as making a friend laugh, including others and being a good listener.
Many adults strive to be build important connections to children, and can be surprised if children nonetheless claim “no one cares about me.” When caring is not perceived by children, there is an opportunity to learn more about the children’s needs and how they prefer to be cared for. Talk to kids, and when you do, really listen. Dialogue requires getting in touch with students’ feelings and withholding assumptions to respect children’s voices. Instead of simply telling children not to bully, try engaging in true dialogue. For example, you may discover that peer pressure and the struggle to belong make anti-bullying expectations an unrealistic challenge. Discuss with children how to prevent bullying behaviour and what caused the bullying to occur. When appropriate, be vulnerable and open up about your own moral dilemmas and explain how you moved through them.