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In a world where violence and cruelty seem to be common and almost acceptable, many parents wonder what they can do to help their children to become kinder and gentler—to develop a sense of caring and compassion for others.

Raising kids who care isn’t a solution to violence by itself, but it’s reasonable to worry that being exposed to a lot of violence—whether it’s on television or on the streets —could make your children hard and uncaring. People sometimes think that children don’t really see the outside world—or other people—the way adults do, that they only view the world from their own eyes and in their own way.

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The most important thing you as a parent can do is to let your children know how much it means to you that they behave with kindness and responsibility. When you see your child doing something that you think is thoughtless or cruel, you should let them know right away that you don’t want them doing that.

Speak to your child firmly and honestly, and keep your focus on the act, not on the child personally—something along the lines of ‘What you did is not very nice’ rather than ‘YOU are not very nice.’

Be frank, honest and upfront with your kids about what kind of behavior you do and don’t like. Keep your comments short and to the point; the idea is to teach them, not to make them feel guilty. In other words, our actions speak louder than words. If you are consistently caring and compassionate, it’s more likely that your children will be, too. Children watch their parents, and other adults, for clues on how to behave.

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