Express Care: Learn About It

What Does It Mean to Express Care?

Mother and Son

Expressing care is key to family strengths. When we care for each other, we show that we like each other. And we want the best for each other. We do this when we . . .

  • Listen to each other—Pay attention to each other and have open, respectful communication.
  • Are warm to each other—Let each other know that we like being together.
  • Invest in each other—Commit time to do things for each other.
  • Show interest—Care about each person’s feelings and interests.
  • Are dependable—Be someone others can count on and trust.

Why Does Expressing Care Matter?

How family members express care affects family life and how kids develop. Some examples from research:

  • Children need good parent-child communication. Good communication helps children’s solve problems, make friends, and adapt to change. 1 It is also a key to families being close to each other.2
  • Caring relationships are the basis for forming strong attachments in early childhood.3 As they grow up, children and youth who have warm, caring relationships with their parents do better in school. They have better social skills and relationships. They engage in fewer risky behaviors, such as aggression and early sexual activity.4
  • Parent-child relationships grow stronger when parents invest in things that matter for their children. Parents may even sacrifice their own preferences.5 Children’s self-confidence and well-being increase when they know their parents and others are invested in them.
  • “Sparks” are children’s deep passions or interests.  Young people who have family members who support their sparks attend school more regularly and work harder when they’re there. They also have a more hopeful outlook and sense of purpose.6
  • Young people do better when they have mutual trust and dependability with their parents. They are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as vandalism, substance use, and early sexual activity.7

The State of Expressing Care in Families

U.S. parents of 3 to 13 year olds surveyed who score high on the five actions that are part of expressing care:

The State of EXPRESSING CARE in Families

SOURCE: Search Institute survey of 1,000 parenting adults in the United States. Made possible with generous support from Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to explore the ways you show your kids that you care.
  • Talk about expressing care with your kids and other parenting adults.

Research Sources

1. Vangelisti, A. L. (2004). Introduction. In A. L. Vangelisti (Ed.), Handbook of family communication. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

2. Schrodt, P. (2005). Family communication schemata and the Circumplex Model of Family Functioning. Western Journal of Communication69(4), 359–376. doi:10.1080/10570310500305539

3. VanderVen, K. (2008). Promoting positive development in early childhood: Building blocks for a successful start. New York: Springer.

4. Child Trends (1997). Parental warmth and affection. Child Trends Databank. Accessed from Mcneely, C. A., & Barber, B. K. (2010). How do parents make adolescents feel loved? Perspectives on supportive parenting from adolescents in 12 cultures. Journal of Adolescent Research25(4), 601–631. doi:10.1177/0743558409357235

5. Finkenauer, C., & Righetti, F. (2011). Understanding in close relationships: An interpersonal approach. European Review of Social Psychology, 22(1), 316-363. Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., Drigotas, S. M., Arriaga, X. B., Witcher, B. S., & Cox, C. L. (1997). Willingness to sacrifice in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology72(6), 1373–95. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.72.6.1373

6. Ben-Eliyahu, A., Rhodes, J. E., & Scales, P. C. (2014). The Interest-Driven Pursuits of 15 Year Olds: “Sparks” and Their Association With Caring Relationships and Developmental Outcomes. Applied Developmental Science18(2), 76–89. doi:10.1080/10888691.2014.894414. Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., & Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2011). Adolescent thriving: the role of sparks, relationships, and empowerment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence40(3), 263–77. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9578-6

7. Borawki, E. A., Ievers-Landis, C. E., Lovegreen, L. D., & Trapi, E. S. (2003). Parental monitoring, negotiated unsupervised time, and parental trust: the role of perceived parenting practices in adolescent health risk behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33(2), 60-70. Kerr M, Stattin H, Trost K. (1999). To know you is to trust you: Parent’s trust is rooted in child disclosure of information. Journal of Adolescence, 22, 737–752.