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  • Raising Children Who Want to Help Others

  • Helping HandsKaren Cammuso, PhD, senior staff psychologist at the Bradley School and clinical assistant professor at Brown Medical School, offered a presentation on how to raise children who want to help others at Parenting Matters 2005: Practical Information for Raising Children. This is an overview of her presentation.

    What Type of Child Wants to Help Others?

    A child who:

    • Is altruistic and gives to others at a cost to one's self
    • Is sociable
    • Is socially competent and assertive
    • Expresses empathy
    • Understands and uses moral judgment and role-taking skills

    How Can Parents and Teachers Help?

    • Promote the ability of children to make choices
    • Promote the ability to reason through decisions
    • Assist a child in developing and understanding emotions
    • Set conditions that promote the development of empathy
    • Teach by example
    • Help children to see themselves as part of the larger world

    Making choices

    Parents can help their child make better choices by explaining their parental behavior and its implications for the child and others. Children need to recognize that they have a self to assert, but that there are guidelines for that assertion and implications for others.

    Unilateral decision-making does not promote the ability to make choices. For example, when siblings complain to a parent when arguing, rather than telling them what to do, involve them in the decision making process to find the best solution. This results in a child who can make choices, while following rules and respecting limits. It also promotes a respectful dynamic between adult and child.

    Promoting the ability to reason through decisions

    • Teach cognitive problem-solving strategies
    • Explain why decisions are made
    • Anticipate social and interpersonal consequences of decisions
    • Present moral ideas that may be beyond the child's realm of reasoning

    Setting conditions that promote the development of empathy

    • Show parental sensitivity and positivity
    • Express positive emotions with others and with family
    • Teach warmth and that "people deserve to be treated well"
    • Set demands that are reasonably high
    • Tailor your responses to your child's needs and not your own
    • Structure your family life in a way that includes some modeling of a democratic process

    Teach by example

    Teach by example by helping others:

    • Within the family
    • Through volunteer opportunities
    • Through participation in larger groups and organizations with no tangible "benefit" to giving
    • By creating family opportunities to volunteer in developmentally appropriate ways

    Helping children see themselves as part of a larger world

    • Enforce the idea of a spiritual "big picture."
    • Communicate larger themes. For example, the circle of life, interdependence, etc.
    • Support experiences that display the impact of the individual on the larger unit.
    • Children who participate in larger organizations, such as church, scouting or other organized groups, tend to have higher ratings of social competence. Support this type of participation.
    • Foster feelings of self-efficacy

    Things to do at home

    • Set family goals for helping others
    • Set individual "helping" goals
    • Have children participate in household activities and chores to learn to recognize their contribution and encourage feelings of self-efficacy
    • Have your child choose a charity or organization they would like to contribute money or time to

       |   Parenting Matters