Four Steps That Teach Your Kids Kindness

by Jackie Hershwitz

Random Acts of Kindness Day: Teaching Your Children KindnessEvery parent envisions their child as loving, kind, and considerate. Our children will be the ones who reach out to comfort a crying classmate at daycare, offer a hug, a toy, and a soothing mantra of, "Don't worry! Your mommy be right back!"

Unfortunately, many kids choose to mock with hurtful words of "Crybaby!" or "Only babies cry when mommy leaves," instead. This unkind and downright bullying behavior prevails to the point of being considered the "norm." We read about it or hear a story on the news. Even rock star Lady Gaga heads up an anti-bullying campaign.

Callous and sometimes ruthless behavior among kids is now a universal problem. According to a poll done by contributing author Michele Borba1, 232 kids in kindergarten at a Connecticut elementary school, every child claimed to have been the victim of at least one schoolmate's or sibling's meanness in the previous month.

This is one of those instances that we truly want our child to be the "odd man out." Rather than give up with a, "kids will be kids" mentality or writing it off to simply being a part of growing up, we'd like to offer ideas on how we can turn the tide – allowing our kids to become part of a greater movement of kindness towards others. That "Golden Rule" didn't become tarnished! It still exists!

While telling kids to be more considerate might not always work, we can and do teach values to our kids every day -- every minute of their lives. A child learn values like kindness by observing what you do, and drawing conclusions about what you think is important in life.

Model Kindness

If you want to encourage your toddler to try new foods, you sample a variety. Children observe what you do and try to copy it.

A child learn values like kindness by watching what you do, and drawing conclusions about what you think is important in life. Similarly, they try to be "just like you" when you choose to speak or act in hurtful manners.

In 2000, Warner Bros. produced the movie "Pay it Forward." More recently, companies such as Liberty Mutual, are using the same theme within their commercials encouraging the idea that, "Doing the Right Thing" should be everyone's policy. We agree!

Respond gently to those little (and not so little) annoying folks you encounter. Curb the language and the road rage. Take time out to assist an elderly neighbor. Children will take notice when your words and actions encourage or help others. In time, those are the examples they will choose to copy.

Talk About Values

You've given an upset friend a hug or donated cans of vegetables to the food bank. Tell your child why you've done this activity. "Some people aren't able to buy all the food they need, so we help out by sharing some of ours." That moral code that you chose to live by is important to pass on to future generations.

When you see your child demonstrating kindness, label the positive behavior and share, "I noticed how kind you were when you tried to cheer him up!" Acknowledge mistakes on your part as well. If you fail to act in the way you wished, mention it and if appropriate, share what steps you can take to improve. Help your child in doing the same.

Teaching Your Child Empathy

Kids can learn empathy by being treated compassionately, and by watching you respond to others with compassion, respect and kindness.

"Roots of Empathy" and "Seeds of Empathy," evidence-based classroom programs, help children identify their own feelings and the feelings of others. Kids watch the the relationship between a baby and parent. Then they talk how the baby might be feeling. You can use key elements of these program to increase your child's empathy.

Does your family have a tiny member? When the baby cries, let your child know that a crying baby isn't a bad baby but a baby with a problem. "Hi, sweetie. Is something wrong? Are you hungry? Lonely? How can mommy help you feel better?"

Something exciting happens as you talk and comfort the baby. Your child sees the world through those tiny eyes and understands what it is like to have needs but no ability to express them clearly.

Make the Value Relevant

The opportunity to be kind -- or unkind -- crops up for your child every day. Why did your child decide to do what they did? How do they think the other person feels? These type of questions help kids make good choices when faced with a value-laden situation:

  • Is your toddler allowed to destroy an older sibling's tower or artwork?
  • Is your preschooler allowed to tease and then taunt a younger sibling?
  • Is your 6-year-old allowed to break a date with a friend to accept another, more exciting, invitation?

We invite you to deliberately practice kindness today. You can anticipate your child copying that behavior tomorrow.

What kinds of activities have you tried?

1. SOURCES: Michele Borba, Ed.D., "Parents Do Make A Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts"; Education Week: August/September 1997; ERIC Digest 1997; National Center for Education Statistics, 1998 Bureau of Justice Statistics; Time, May 18, 1998.

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