Kids derive happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of self from a variety of things. Some are wowing their instructors, family, and friends with their gymnastics talent. Others feel a sense of achievement when they learn to do something new, like tie their shoes or read a few new words in their favorite book. And while achievement is great for development, self esteem, and confidence, do you know how much your kids are learning about caring, kindness, and empathy? We have a few simple tips that will help you to raise kind, generous kids, who will reap the rewards of being empathetic and caring adults.
- Pay attention to what your kids are reading and watching. Reading books that introduce them to characters who feel good after doing good helps kids to understand that kindness can have its rewards. And many children’s books give kids examples of situations that are similar to real life situations that may give them the opportunity to show kindness. Check out this list for a few of our favorites. And make sure you’re aware of what television shows your kids are watching. The National Institute of Mental Health released a study that shows that children imitate what they see on television. Giving them access to shows that promote caring about others, and limiting shows that feature violence or aggression, is key. And when your children ask to see a new movie that’s coming out, do a bit of research first to make sure that violence is not glorified in the movie.
- Offer role models. Have a conversation with your kids about historical figures or even celebrities who have conducted humanitarian work or have promoted non-violence. Tell children about the ways in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi fought for causes they believed in using non-violent means, and encouraged their supporters to embrace non-violence. The Albert Einstein Institution’s website is a great resource for learning about non-violence yourself. You can also talk with your children about historical figures who dedicated their lives to helping others, such as Mother Teresa. And if some of these references don’t seem to resonate for them at such a young age, ask them who their favorite TV or movie star is. Chances are, that famous celebrity has done their share of philanthropic work or has volunteered their time for a good cause. Kristin Bell, the voice of Elsa, is involved with several animal rights causes, has supported humanitarian efforts in Uganda, and has worked with the Red Cross. Talk to your kids to find out who they admire, and give them even more reasons to do so!
- Model caring and kindness at home. Children’s behavior is most affected by what they see at home. Model kindness and empathy, starting with your child himself. If he is frustrated or unhappy, ask him how he is feeling. Tell him that you are sorry to hear that he is upset. Ask him how you can help him to feel better. And if your child has siblings, you can encourage each sibling to take care of one another by noticing when a sibling is hurt or scared, asking that sibling what is wrong, and asking how they can help. Make sure to extend that same empathy and kindness to everyone in your household, including your partner. Allow your child to see you caring for your partner’s feelings, helping him or her with a problem, and even let them see you disagree, but work out your disagreement in a calm and loving way. Not feeling particularly calm and loving toward your partner today? Work things out behind closed doors, if you feel you may raise your voice or lose patience. While fighting in a marriage is normal, a child has trouble understanding that, and may feel afraid and confused when he hears his parents become angry with each other.
- Mind your manners. Teaching children manners is about more than simply using the right silverware. Encouraging your child, even as young as infancy, to wave hello and goodbye to people, will help them understand that when someone arrives or leaves, welcoming them and then giving them a friendly send-off is a kind thing to do. Teaching your kids to say, “please” before asking for something, “thank you” when they have been helped, and showing them how to share and be gentle with others will be rewarding for your kids as they grow older, and see that a polite attitude will make others happy, and will allow them to make friends more easily and have social interactions that are smooth and conflict-free. You may even take your child’s attitude a step further, and encourage them to help someone who is having trouble by opening a door, stepping aside to make room, or even asking friends and guests if they’d like a glass or water or juice when they come to your home.
- Extend your kindness to the community. Children of nearly every age can assist in volunteer activities that help the community. Whether she helps you collect canned goods for a food drive, choose a new toys for a toy drive, or visit elderly patients in a nursing facility, your child will begin to understand that her actions can positively impact others, and may start to practice this type of altruism in her daily life.
Let us know what types of conversations you’re having with your kids about kindness. What activities do you do together? We’d love to hear more about how you’re all raising such thoughtful, sweet kids in the comments!
Summit Kids Academy
Lake Worth, Florida