Little Ways to Raise Bighearted Kids

from Parents Magazine

When it comes to teaching young children values like honesty and generosity, a lecture about sharing and caring is bound to go in one ear and out the other. “But when you introduce teamwork and compassion in a playful, hands-on way, even little kids can take them to heart,” says Jamie Miller, author of 10-Minute Life Lessons for Kids. Wondering how to get started? We’ve listed important virtues along with corresponding books and projects you can share with your child.

Gratitude

Giving thanks isn’t just about good manners. It’s a state of mind that lets kids feel content with the things they have—and don’t have.

Talk about people who deserve your child’s gratitude, such as a teacher, or a friend who gave a gift. Then write thank-you cards together. Also point out everyday things your child can be grateful for (such as a comfy bed or a surprise visit from her best friend).

Read and learn: In The Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, a girl learns to be thankful for the simple treasures of nature, such as a sunrise and the shade of a sheltering tree.

Honesty

Kids start fibbing as early as age 2 or 3 (“I didn’t spill that milk”), and lying can quickly become a habit. “But if you teach your child to tell the truth, that becomes a habit, too,” says Richard Eyre, co-author of Teaching Your Children Values

Tell your child you’re going to say something and he has to let you know whether you’re telling the truth or not. Throw a ball up in the air, catch it and say, “I caught the ball.” Ask him if that’s true. Then rub your tummy and say, “I’m patting my head.” Ask again. This exercise will help him distinguish between being honest and lying.

Read and learn: Franklin Fibs, by Paulette Bourgeois. Franklin the turtle tells a whopper to impress his friends—and learns it’s far better to tell the truth.

Teamwork

Whether they’re playing soccer or building a block tower with friends, kids need to learn that cooperation is an essential component of success.

Give your child a toothpick and ask her to snap it (help her, to avoid splinters). Then create a large bundle of toothpicks with a rubber band and have her try to break them (she won't be able to). Explain that a group is stronger than any one of its parts.

Read and learn: In Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom! by Kelly DiPucchio, the entire town joins the effort to help a retiring teacher clear out a classroom that hasn’t been tidied in 50 years.

Compassion

“By the time he starts school, a child needs to begin thinking about other people besides himself,” says Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., author of Teaching Right from Wrong: 40 Things You Can Do to Raise a Moral Child.

At the dinner table, write various ways to show compassion on slips of paper (such as “give someone a hug” and “offer to help out”), and place them in a bowl. Have each family member pick one and read it aloud, then follow the instructions. 

Read and learn: In One Winter’s Day, by M. Christina Butler, Little Hedgehog helps creatures in need during a winter storm—and is repaid for his kindness when they help rebuild his ruined nest.

Generosity

It often seems like a kid’s favorite word is “mine!” Learning to share will help your child think about others.

When you’re out with your child, point out people who seem unhappy (such as a baby crying at the playground or an upset customer in a store). Ask, “Why do you think she’s sad? How can we make her feel better?” Explain that being generous—whether it’s offering a sticker to a cranky child or smiling kindly at a stranger—shows other people we understand them and helps make them happy.

Read and learn: The 100th Customer, by Byung-Gyu Kim and K. T. Hao. Ben Bear and Chris Croc open a restaurant together and discover the joy of giving when they donate a pizza and dessert to a needy boy and his grandma.

Self-Worth

Kids who trust their instincts and abilities learn to tackle challenges without your help.

Make a progress chart in which your child sets her own goals. (You might need to supply some ideas, such as brushing her teeth by herself, writing her name and learning to count to ten). Break down each task into manageable increments (such as “count to three,” “count to five,” and so on). Let her decorate the chart with stickers as she reaches each milestone along the way.

Read and learn: In Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell, the protagonist finds the confidence to charm her classmates at a new school.

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