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 Parenting Press®

Looking at Values:


Parenting Press conducted a poll in March 2000 to ask respondents what values they most desired in children. This is a discussion of one of the top ten values identified.

Thinking About Caring

Definition: Able to feel, think, and act in the interest of others, oneself, and the environment.
Behavior reflecting
the value:
He picks up litter by the side of the road; fixes a snack willingly for a younger sibling; reads to an elderly neighbor whose eyesight is failing. He refuses to take drugs. He makes sure pets have food, water, exercise, and shelter.
Knowledge and
skills needed:
He can brainstorm ideas. He can recognize the need for relevant knowledge and skills, and has the ability to seek them out. He has the skills needed to put caring into action. He can make decisions based on caring as a value, and he can plan and carry out his plan.
Insights about the
Behaving in a caring way relies heavily on wanting to do so and having the appropriate information and skills. Decision-making skills are particularly important.
Value present
at birth?

Teaching or Preserving Caring
Baby: Teach him to differentiate between living and nonliving things. Help him interact with other people. Help him experience consequences in the natural world by providing safe opportunities, such as having him hold something very warm while you say "hot."
Toddler: Provide opportunities for him to be around other people, including babies and other toddlers. Help him learn that humans must be touched differently from objects, that they cry and can be hurt, and that they are particularly fun to be with.
Preschooler: Help him to learn to take turns and then to share, and that others have feelings similar to his own. Continue to provide opportunities for him to interact with other people. Give him a chance to entertain a younger child and to care for the environment (picking up trash at the playground or while taking a walk, for example).
School age: Encourage him to recognize the need for information about what he is going to care for--younger child, pet, plant, etc.--and the need for skills to put his caring into action. Teach him how to get information and skills. Help him understand how another person may think and feel differently than he does. Talk about how people differ and how their needs differ as a result. Discuss how to plan to care for a younger child for a short time, maybe by reading a story or playing a game. Talk about how to care for the environment.
Teenage: Provide opportunities for him to care for something. By this age he should be able to be involved, take another's perspective, find out the needs of the person or thing being cared for, understand the situation, and make plans. He should possess skills to put caring into action or know how to acquire them. If he does not have the skills, which is very possible given that our culture does not emphasize caring, you may need to provide opportunities for him to learn. Note: Developmental tasks of teenagers frequently interfere with the ability to care for other people or things. On the other hand, teenagers are often the most altruistic of people.

Influences on Learning Caring
Needs: His social needs will provide some motivation for him to want to learn how to care for others, including pets.
Temperament: If he is emotionally sensitive, he will be aware of how another is feeling, which gives him useful information when he wants to care for another person. A child who is very focused on his own affairs and is not a strong "people" person has more difficulty thinking about the needs of others.
Learning style: A visual learner needs visual clues, so books, pictures, and charts are helpful in teaching what is involved in caring for someone or something, like a pet.

Reflections about Caring
Influence of other
Thoughtful decison making is important in dealing with a situation in which we plan to care for someone or something. Information and relevant skills are necessary. A child needs to learn when it is appropriate to care and when it is more important to base his behavior on other values, such as assertiveness, competitiveness, or attention to his own needs.
New thinking
resulting from
Acting in a caring way requires more than the simple desire to be helpful. It is a complex process, requiring motivation, knowledge, and skills.

Adapted from Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire by Harriet Heath, Ph.D.

Return to Values Poll Results & Archive

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Last updated May 05, 2008