Raising kids who care and contribute

Four ways to nurture compassion and a sense of moral responsibility in your children.


Raising kids who care and contribute

Four ways to nurture compassion and a sense of moral responsibility in your children.


Your little girl sees a homeless man lying in the street, and is the only spectator concerned. Adults walk by in a wide berth and avert their eyes. But she is indignant about a man with no place to sleep.

As a parent, you have a choice. You can follow the other adults and walk away—often, idealism in children is dismissed as naivety. Or you can think of this moment as a chance to foster empathy in your future leader.

We’ve worked with millions of young people on service and leadership, and we’re both dads ourselves. On the daily, parents approach us and want to know how to raise more compassionate kids (our first suggestion is to stop and talk to the homeless man, like our mother did with us—see sidebar). We often share our learned and lived experience, compiled below.

Here are four ideas to kick-start your efforts to raise kids who care and contribute.

Start small for big wins

Giving back starts at home, and it starts small. Even putting dishes on bottom shelves where young ones can reach lets them pitch in. Little household duties are more than chores; they instill a sense of responsibility and community on a small scale. Family is the basic kinship unit of society and the most important group your child belongs to. Contributing at home reinforces that they can take action elsewhere.

When children encounter big issues, break down the problem into realistic goals. A school project on primates helps raise awareness on dwindling orangutan habitats, for instance. Make that connection between small acts and big wins.

Gift + issue = change

Using talents is a unique way to give back that offers creative opportunities to serve. Sure, you can sling ladles at a soup kitchen, but leveraging skills will make volunteering twice the learning opportunity. If your daughter takes guitar lessons, she could perform at a local seniors’ residence. Your artist son can design a poster for a fundraising event.

No matter your age, combine personal interests with the issues you care about most. Parents, make sure your children see you working on a project you’re passionate about.

Create a family mission statement

If your family doesn’t stand for something unified, what values will your child uphold? Discuss a set of core values and build a mission statement that includes one social issue to tackle together. Over the year, learn about the problem, write to elected representatives, raise funds, or go to related events. Everything does not have to be a fundraiser and socially conscious activities don’t have to be daunting.

Let them lead

Pay attention to the causes your kid cares about; don’t force them to adopt your own. One of the top issues that young people express concern for today is mental health and wellbeing, which is just now entering the spotlight it deserves. Previous generations weren’t as aware of mental illnesses and their stigmas. If your child asks about this or another issue, don’t dismiss it because you aren’t familiar with the problem. Capitalize on that moment so that you can follow their lead. Learn about it together. Doing more research is always the first step, and then discuss the best way to give back.

Don’t ignore your kid’s natural impulses. Help them help others.


We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our parents. We remember one day our mom, a special-needs teacher, pulled into the parking lot of a discount store. Then 11-year-old Marc slunk below the dashboard. “We’re stopping here?”

Marc insisted on a ‘cool’ t-shirt with a sports logo, not discount duds. Our mom worried Marc was turning into a snob. She wondered how she could raise us to be sensitive to poverty when we lived in a well-to-do suburb and lacked for nothing, unlike our mom, who experienced homelessness as a child. She started to take us downtown to meet and hear stories of street people, volunteer at food banks, and visit immigrant families. Our dad made a point of reading the paper each day with us, talking about issues near and far and discussing what our family might do to make a difference.

Unwavering support from our parents is how we launched WE Charity when we were just teens. Not every family has to do this, but regardless, we promise you that children don’t simply become caring adults. They need your help.

Craig Kielburger
Craig Kielburger
Craig and Marc Kielburger

Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.