Teaching Kids the Caring Character Trait, Especially During the Holidays

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Manic:  The holidays, period!  And it can be hard to take time to remember that the season is truly about caring and giving, but it is a good idea to set the example for our kids.

Managed:  Our writer, Lisa Walton, also a teacher and a Mom, asked me is she could share some fun ideas on how to celebrate the season with our kids while also teaching them the very important character trait of caring, especially during the holidays.  Great idea, Lisa!  Take a look at these creative ideas that will get your family feeling festive and helping others at the same time.  In the spirit of her article, our own family is participating in the Christmas Angel program, along with my son’s hockey team.

Lisa says:

December is the perfect time to focus on the Character Counts trait of Caring.  We can demonstrate caring by being kind and compassionate, by expressing gratitude, showing forgiveness and by helping others in need.  The holiday season offers daily opportunities to encourage, teach and model these values.  Here are some fun activities and books to share with your children ~ Happy Holidays!

 Caring involves concern, empathy, kindness, charity, and love.

 1. Concern for others’ well-being is the willingness to be there for them. This is shown when we become so involved with the well-being of others, that it seems as if our happiness depends on theirs.

Activity Idea:  A Loving Friend:  Read Aloud The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Ask your family to list ways that the tree cared for the boy. Have them think of ways the boy could have cared for the tree. Create a “giving tree”. Cut out circles of paper to represent the fruit of the tree. On each circle, have children draw a picture of someone behaving in a caring way. Hang the fruit on the tree for all to see.

Source: Spotlight on Character: Plays That Show  CHARACTER COUNTS! – Grades 2-3, 1999

2. Empathy is sharing another person’s feelings and emotions. Empathy involves feeling an emotional response to the pain and pleasure of others. 

Activity Idea:  A Thousand Words (Recognizing Points of View)

There is an old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Explain that part of caring involves empathy — seeing another’s perspective and feeling what he or she is going through. Take time to look at real world examples or photos for this activity.   The purpose is to look at other people with compassionate eyes. Imagine their lives, thoughts, dreams, fears. Invent a story for them. To do so, you have to care about them.  Choose one or more photos, or real life people that provoke an emotional response.  Choose images in which the emotions of the person are not overt (screaming, crying, laughing, etc.) and their mood or situation is ambiguous.  Look at a picture and describe it in a thousand words.

Source:   www.charactercounts.org

3. Kindness– A person shows kindness by being sympathetic, generous, or charitable and by generally doing good.

Activity Idea:  Strive for Five– Challenge kids to choose 5 people they can help in some way.  For example, they may choose to play with someone new, help a person who has fallen, say thank you to the lunchroom workers, etc.  Or, instead of doing something nice for 5 people, change it to doing 5 kind things a day. Don’t be surprised when “Strive for Five” becomes a desire to help in more than 5 different ways!

Source: ilovethatteachingidea.com

Activity Idea:  Compliment Bag —  Learning to give compliments is one way to develop a caring character.  Share about times you have received compliments and how it felt.  Then give each family member a brown lunch bag and index cards.  Have each person decorate the bag and write his or her name on it. Throughout the week fill out compliment cards for family members and put them in their bag.  Encourage everyone to write specific compliments about positive acts rather than just nice comments about appearance.  Ask how they feel after reading them. Discuss the importance of giving positive compliments and sharing feelings of appreciation.

Source:  Developing Character When It Counts – Grades 6-8, 1999

4. Charity — Charity is the voluntary giving of comfort, time, support, money, or other help to people in need. To be truly charitable, a person gives for the sake of making someone else’s life better and not for praise or gratitude.

Activity Idea:  Family Service Project– Have your family identify a need in the school or community and develop a plan to help. This might take the form of a book and magazine, making hats and blankets for newborns, canned food or toy drives for a charity, or another project that displays care for others.   December is the perfect opportunity to find ways to help out.  Have your family help at a homeless shelter, food pantry, nursing home, daycare, or help a particular family in need.  One of our favorite charities is Feed my Starving Children, where we go as a family to pack meals for children in need around the world.

5. Love — Love is the tender feelings of attachment or affection we have for other persons.

Activity:  Caring Coupons (Great Gift Idea!) — Kids, would you like to get your parents a gift that they’ll love — and not have to spend a dime for it?  Make a book of “caring coupons” for them. Use the link for sample coupons and have the kids make their own book.  Tell them to think of caring acts that their parent(s) would appreciate. Have them list these acts on the coupons. For example, they might make a coupon redeemable for one dish washing job. Or they might commit to keeping the TV or stereo off one morning so their parents can sleep in. And let’s not leave out yard work and extra house-cleaning chores! Even a good hug and kiss will do. When they’ve completed their coupons and stapled them together with a creative cover, suggest that they save their books for a special occasion (e.g., Christmas, a parent’s birthday, anniversary, Mother’s/Father’s Day, etc.).

For copies:  http://charactercounts.org/pdf/lesson-plan-bank_handouts/Caring-Coupons.pdf


More Fun Holiday Activities to Reinforce Caring

 Activity:  Secret Pal (Santa, Snowman, etc) — Have each participant (family, or neighborhood) write his or her name on a slip of paper. Place the names in a jar. Let each person draw a slip. Ask everyone not to tell or show anyone the names they drew. Explain that each person is a secret pal to the person whose name he or she drew. The assigned task is to be a caring person to this particular person for the day, or week. Remind everyone that a caring person is kind, compassionate, and helpful. At the end of the day or week, allow participants to guess and reveal their secret pals. Discuss how it feels to offer caring acts, and how it feels to receive them.

Source:  Developing Character When It Counts – Grades 4-5, 1999

Activity:  Cookie Exchange — This is a fun activity during the holiday season to do with family friends and neighbors.  It is a fun, social way to help one another during this hectic time of year.  Each participant donates 1-2 dozen baked goods, and everyone gets a sampling of the other participants’ goodies!  It’s also a fun time to mingle with friends and perhaps share some hot chocolate!

Activity:  Notes of Gratitude — This time of year many people choose to give gifts to teachers, religious leaders, caregivers, coaches, community helpers, etc.  Take the time to write a note or make a gift (with your children) that truly expresses your family’s appreciation.  It’s not so much about buying gifts as letting others know we care about them and appreciate their hard work and efforts!


Books that Teach Compassion


Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse ;  Lionni

Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs; de Paola

Through Grandpa’s Eyes; Machlachlan

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge; Fox

The Giving Tree; Silverstein

The Doorbell Rang; Hutchins

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear; Wood

A Letter to Santa Claus; Impey

The Runaway Bunny; Wise

The Rainbow Fish; Pfister

Horton Hatches the Egg; Dr. Seuss

Yoko; Wells

The Quiltmaker’s Gift; Brumbeau

Hooway for Wodney Wat; Lester

My Brother Charlie; Peete



 Now One Foot, Now the Other; de Paola

The Secret Garden; Burnett

Mr. Popper’s Penguins; Atwater

The Princess and the Goblin; MacDonald

Charlotte’s Web; White

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; Frank

The House of Dies Drear; Hamilton

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Speare

Bud, Not Buddy; Curtis

Call of the Wild; London


About the Author…Lisa Walton:

Lisa Walton–Parenting tips
Valley Teacher and Mother

Lisa Walton has been a teacher in the Valley for over 18 years. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Education from Illinois State University; and Master’s Degree in Special Education from Arizona State University.  She currently works as an itinerant teacher, collaborating with regular education teachers in the public schools.

Read more about Lisa on our team bio page