If you’re wondering how to teach kindness to children, look no further than your own home. Establishing a culture of kindness with your family can make a world of difference, and there are several ways to demonstrate the importance of the Golden Rule.
I recently asked my friends and family, “What do you mean by kindness when you think of imparting it to your children?” They provided numerous replies, including compassion, generosity, empathy, justice, and the alleviation of pain. Each response, however, demonstrated an underlying concern for others instead of acting only out of self-interest. Kindness is the most fundamental manifestation of what it means to be a human person, so it makes natural that this is also the definition of humane.
The author of Radical Kindness: The Life-Changing Power of Giving and Receiving, Angela C. Santomero, emphasizes that kindness is about “seeing with your heart.” For our youngest children, this might mean touching the back of a friend who is worried, waving to an old neighbor, or cutting a cookie in half to share with a younger sibling. Kindness for older children could be inviting a lonely classmate to their lunch table, soothing someone who is sad or terrified, or contributing a portion of their money to a cause they care about.
Whatever it means to you, instilling it in your children early is essential. Becoming a kinder nation may appear complicated, but instilling compassion in your family is very feasible. Just concentrate on considerate everyday routines, a few tangible activities, and a dash of reflection for good measure. How to commit to raising the next generation of genuinely decent people.
1. Help Them Understand What Kindness Is
You can begin discussing it with your children before they are old enough to behave gently. Psychiatrist Kelli Harding says empathy is ingrained in us from birth through the so-called mirror-neuron system, and we instinctively feel what others feel. It’s the reason why your 2-year-old may cry when she sees another child fall on the playground, and it’s the ideal time to explain to her why: “You feel sorry because you care about your friend, and she hurt herself.”
If empathy is comprehension, then compassion is the application of that comprehension. This talent develops somewhat later in children. “As a child’s brain matures, he is better able to differentiate between you and I, and this is when compassion develops,” explains Dr. Harding. Dr. Damon Korb, a developmental pediatrician, says, “Toddlers are extremely focused on me and mine, but you can progressively assist your child think about we and us by using inclusive us language yourself.” “For instance, you can ask, ‘What can we do today that will be enjoyable for everyone?'”
Dr. Korb recommends beginning conversations on kindness with children between 3 and 5, and the Golden Rule is an ideal conversation starter. Explain to your young child, “We treat others the way we want to be treated.” You wouldn’t want your mosquito bites to be made fun of, so you shouldn’t make fun of your relative. If she seems to have grasped this, you can move on to the Platinum Rule, which states that we should treat others in a manner that is best for them, even if it is not ideal for us.
To illustrate what this implies in the real world, you may tell your 5-year-old, “Your brother will be exhausted after an entire day of second grade. Shall we provide him with a particular treat?” When she replies, “Yeah! Raisins,” you can tell her that this is her preferred food and encourage her to recall his. She will feel kind and proud as she hands him a bag of cheese crackers, despite not being a fan.
At the beach, you can tell your kindergarten child: “We are aware that you enjoy being buried up to your neck in sand, yet your sister screams when sand gets into her sandals. Do you believe that she will enjoy having a bucket of it thrown on her naked legs?” You can point out to a youngster who is using the baby’s foot as a microphone while singing the alphabet song, “Examine your sibling’s face. Does he appear like he’s having fun?”
2. Stimulate Their Creativity
One of the most influential behaviors we can teach our children is to ask ourselves, “How would that feel?” Katherine Applegate, author of the award-winning children’s books The One and Only Ivan and Wishtree, asserts, “You cannot be empathetic unless you have an active imagination; you must be able to put yourself in the shoes of another person.”
Pretend play is an excellent approach for young children to develop empathy. You might tell your child, “Your doll fell to the ground and hit her head. What do you recommend we do for her?” As your children grow older, you might ask them to visualize increasingly complex real-world situations as you meet them. Dr. Korb, a father of five, explains, “I point out differences to my children without passing judgment, so they can establish their own ideas.” “I might wonder what it would be like to sleep outside during the winter.”
You can provide numerous comparable opportunities for reflection: “Imagine being a kitten that was unable to climb down from a tree.” “Consider how difficult it must be for a wheelchair user to board the bus, and how grateful you would be that a clever engineer constructed the elevator to make it possible!”
Over time, this style of thinking and the child’s response to it become routine. When your child sees a youngster who has forgotten their lunch, he or she may understand that the child is hungry and offer to share their food. Or, your youngster may elect to volunteer at a soup kitchen or thank firefighters for rescuing kittens by writing a note to the firehouse.
Together reading a book is a simple way to connect with your child and experience a life that may be vastly different from your own. Applegate states, “When we read, we envision with our heart and soul as well as our mind.” Characters in literature frequently express their emotions in greater depth than they would if they were sitting in front of you.
3. Demonstrate Kindness Everywhere
According to Dr. Harding, this is the most crucial thing we can do to raise thoughtful children. We cannot control their behavior, but we may look for opportunities to behave kindly ourselves. Thankfully, children are eager to imitate us from an early age, so you may set a compassionate example from the time they are infants.
Your children will also observe how you treat others as they grow older, from subtle interactions, such as putting down your phone to make eye contact and say “thank you,” to more tangible acts of kindness, such as inviting a lonely person to celebrate a holiday with you, bringing a meal to a sick neighbor, consoling the bereaved, and donating time and money to help those in need.
Obviously, how we treat our children also counts. According to Dr. Harding, “our intuition tells us a great deal about kindness.” This entails putting empathy ahead of any mental parenting “shoulds” This may be keeping your infant in your arms because she just wants to be held or returning to the store to buy your son that Lion King pencil after all, not because he is sobbing, although he is, but because you didn’t know how important it was to him.
Kindness also involves assuring your children, especially those with siblings, that there is an abundance of love, praise, laughter, and attention to go around.
According to Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., author of How to Quit Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids, it is also beneficial for your children to see you being kind to yourself. This includes traditional forms of self-care, like getting enough sleep and finding help so that you are not exhausted when parenting. Yet, it also requires giving oneself the benefit of the doubt, just as you would to anyone else. Instead of berating yourself when you make a mistake, tell yourself, “It’s okay; we all make errors.”
4. Promote Kindness Habits
Assist your children in matching the somewhat abstract concept of kindness with the many concrete verbs that embody it: sharing, volunteering, giving, including, comforting, supporting, championing, compromising, listening, and noticing when someone could use assistance—a classmate with a math problem, a family member with a chore, an elderly person who needs a bus seat. These practices interact with etiquette, as pleasant actions such as saying “please” and “thank you” to the school bus driver also foster goodwill and contribute to a happy environment.
Dr. Harding refers to these modest acts as microkindnesses and asserts that their cumulative effect is significant. Your children can always question themselves, “What can I do right now to make the situation kinder?”
Rather than condemning our children when they inevitably make errors, we ought to cultivate a positive attitude toward the practice of kindness. Hence, when your children are kind, reward their behavior: “What a thoughtful act! You gave your sister your cupcake to make her happy.”
5. Recognize That Compassion Is Not Always Simple
Dr. Naumburg suggests that we should remind ourselves and our children that kindness can be difficult at times. “It doesn’t always come naturally to you, but it doesn’t mean you’re not nice.” It can be difficult to be generous with a bothersome sibling. Defending a friend or classmate who is being mistreated can be intimidating. It can be uncomfortable to express condolences to a bereaved individual. It might be challenging to know how to interact with a person with a neurological or physical disability.
Although apologizing is a form of kindness, all we can do is gently train our children to consider how others may be feeling and then urge them to accept responsibility for any mistakes they may make. In addition, the more children practice good behavior, the more natural it will become. “Kindness is comparable to a muscle,” adds Dr. Naumburg. The more you practice being kind, the simpler it will be when it’s difficult.
6. Consider the Consequences of Generosity
Assist your children in recognizing how it feels to be nice and how others respond to it. My own teenagers fondly recall a moment in the distant past when they were given complimentary Munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts because our waiter was so moved by their civility. My 19-year-old son just told me, and he is correct, that kindness need not be purely altruistic. You can practice it for both the benefits and the pleasure it provides.
Similarly, you want your children to recognize when others are kind to them, which will foster thankfulness. Consider thoughtfulness and appreciation as two strands that intertwine to form the helix of your child’s happiness.
Long-term, kindness will benefit both the practitioners and the beneficiaries in infinite ways. Santomero refers to this as “the compassion ripple effect,” and its importance cannot be overstated.
Meaningful articles you might like: Encourage Kindness in Small Ways, How to Instill Kindness in Children, Committing Kindness Is the Best Way to Raise Happy Children