Prosocial behaviors refer to acts done to benefit others for reasons other than personal gain. Children show these when sharing with others, cooperating, taking turns or being there for a friend in need. Selflessly helping others is typically a learned behavior. Parents who demonstrate prosocial behaviors lead by example 2. Children may learn about helping others through religious or other group studies. Schools provide a community environment that is ideal for encouraging and modeling prosocial behaviors.
Every child is born with the same capacity for empathy. How it develops depends on the environment. Responsive parents are more likely to have children who develop prosocial behaviors themselves. Encourage children to think about how others feel and put themselves in their shoes. Talk about what it would feel like to lose a parent, be in a wheelchair, or move into a new house. Understanding what it is like to be different helps children know how to make it easier for others. Empathy helps build understanding and knowledge that they, too, may need help from others one day.
Moral values dictate what is right and wrong. A child with strong moral values may recognize a wrong and be more likely to act to make it right. Religious studies can be a factor for learning morals since religion is often an area of study where right and wrong behaviors are discussed with consequences attached. Religion isn’t the only source of moral values. Expectations for prosocial behavior by parents and teachers instill moral values and influence how a child treats siblings, elders, teachers and peers.
The might of one person is a powerful lesson for a child. Learning that his actions can affect a community, positively or negatively, can open a child’s eyes to his influence. If he ignores Johnny's being bullied on the playground, nothing changes. If he pulls a teacher aside and mentions it, the bullying may stop. Taking responsibility for surrounding actions is a big leap in prosocial behaviors, but also one of the smallest. A side comment to the teacher, a hand on the shoulder of a friend in pain. These small gestures can make a difference in someone’s life. It may take years to understand the power of one.
Children learn by example and experience. Show them altruistic behavior and give them a chance to show it. Let them help younger siblings or classmates by being a mentor. Help them collect funds for a donation drive at their school. Threats or punishment can be effective to keep negative behavior in check, but will not promote prosocial behaviors. Discussing positive behaviors, having clear expectations and modeling are the most effective for encouraging children to do more for others without a thought to themselves.
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images