Like many parents, at the top of the list of values I hope to instill in my children is kindness. With positive reinforcement and open communication, we can encourage our children to understand the importance of being kind to others and value empathy and compassion all of their lives.
While that sounds rather grandiose, kindness is a simple and most natural value to uphold and a key element to a happy family.
Here are 6 simple ways to encourage your kids to be kind.
Define Kindness as the Top Priority
Throughout their childhood, your kids will embark on many different endeavors, interacting with all kinds of people, via their education, their neighborhood, their activities, their family, their personal interests, etc. Through it all, as parents, we can reinforce that what we most wish for them is that they be kind.
More important than winning, more important than scoring high marks, more important that every other success measure there is, treating those around them well trumps all. If they are clear on this, true success will be inevitable.
Notice When They Are Kind
They share their snack with their sibling. They ask if their friend is ok after falling. They respectfully interact with an adult. They help someone in need. They draw a picture for their grandparent. They hold the door for the next person. They donate their toys. They celebrate the success of their teammate. They invite the new student in their class to play with them.
If you pay attention, your kids are likely exhibiting kindness in countless ways each day. Make a point of noticing and complimenting them when you do. Positive reinforcement is a joyful and effective way to steer your kids in the right direction.
Revel in Gift Giving and Random Acts of Kindness
Giving and generosity is just plain fun. Allow your kids to experience this joy at every possible occasion.
For every birthday, holiday, and special moment that you are giving a gift to someone, talk to your kids about it. Anticipate how happy that someone will feel upon receipt of the gift and how much joy it will bring him or her. Talk about how you thought through what the best gift to give was.
Allow the kids to choose what gift would be best for their friends and loved ones, to wrap it, to make cards, to deliver the gift, and to truly revel in the other person’s response upon receipt of such kindness.
Random acts of kindness evoke the same kind of joy. Plan to thank your local mail person or sanitation worker for their hard work, treat the next person in line to a coffee, anonymously leave flowers on a stranger’s doorstep.
Celebrate the joy such kindness brings you with your kids.
On the flip side, upon receipt of any gift encourage a considerate and thankful response. Take time for hand-written thank you notes and discuss how appreciative you can all be about the kindness that has been extended.
Beyond the receipt of gifts, of course, there are a plethora of things in life to be grateful for. Discussing with your kids the effort that goes into the food you eat, the home you live in, the clothes you buy, and the toys they play with will allow them to see a bigger picture.
Discuss with them what it must be like to be their teacher, their coach, a barber, the grocery store clerk, a restauranteur, and any purveyor of services they enjoy. Encourage them to picture themselves in others’ shoes.
Allow them to understand that there are numerous others in this world who are less fortunate than they; that there is so much to be grateful for and so many to extend kindness to.
Encourage Them to Seek Inside Themselves
Replace blaming, complaining, and jealousy with a habit of looking inside oneself for ways to improve.
When you see your children blaming others or circumstances for their misfortune, or complaining about something, or feeling jealous of others, these are key triggers to refocus their attention from the outside to the inside.
While we can’t control other people or, often, outside circumstances, we can control our reaction to circumstances and our behavior. These are teachable moments in which kids can learn to look for ways to improve, see the other side of the coin, forgive, be empathetic, and be happy for the good fortune of others.
More than words, children will do what we do. When it comes to kindness, nobody’s perfect. We can all stand to improve.
Perhaps you tend to yell at your fellow driver, gossip with your friends, be short with your spouse, loose your temper with your kids, and so on. The road to becoming more kind is unending.
Simply making it a priority in your own life will send the clear message to your kids about what you value and that life’s a journey of continuous improvement.