We all like to think that our children are little angels who will play nicely at playdates and not be the class bully. Whilst children do seem to be born with innate sense of compassion and a non-judgemental approach, these are often overruled by their primal urges to put themselves first and their lack of impulse control. This can sometimes result in scraps over toys between siblings or peers, or selfish behaviour that is detrimental to others. For children, kindness is something that has to be learned, not through discipline or lectures about how good they have it compared to children in African countries, but through our own behaviour as adults.
1. Be A Kind Role Model
As the old quote goes, “children are great imitators, so give them something to imitate.” How many of us have heard ourselves in the phrases and tones that our children use? How many of us find ourselves repeating phrases that our parents used to say to us? The best way for you to teach your child to be kind is for you to be kind to others and let your child see it. Thank the people who help you when out and about. Put your spare change in the charity tin. Don’t let your child hear speaking badly about other people, even if you think they are not listening.
2. Praise Kind Behaviour
Praise your child if they do something kind, such as sharing a toy or helping a child who has fallen over. You don’t need to go overboard and you certainly don’t need to reward them for it (as that simply teaches them that you should only be kind to get something in return), but do briefly mention it each time, e.g. “Oh, that was kind of you to share your toy.” On the same token, point out kindness in others in front of your child: “Oh, look, Dan’s Mummy has made us some biscuits to share. Isn’t that lovely of her?”
3. Give Your Child Jobs To Do Around The House
Kindness is about realising that we all have a part to play in our community. For your child, your family is his or her community and they need to learn that they have a role to play. Giving your child simple jobs around the house can help with this. It doesn’t have to be anything big, especially for younger children, but something that they need to do each day will give them a sense of belonging and responsibility – all key attributes for a kind person.
Your pre-schooler could lay the table each evening for dinner or help empty the tumble-dryer, for example. Older children can wash and dry the dishes, whilst teenagers can help with the general housework. These jobs shouldn’t be rewarded, as this sends out the wrong message about why we are helpful. Instead, explain to your child that everyone has to work together to keep the house a nice place to live so that everyone is happy.
4. Encourage Your Child To Be Charitable
Talk to your children about those who are less fortunate than you and encourage them to make charitable acts. This will help your child to once more feel part of a community that cares for those around them, and empower your child with the knowledge that they can make a difference. You could ask them to choose an old book or toy that they no longer play with to donate to the charity shop. Alternatively, if you can afford it, take your child to the supermarket and ask them to help you choose items to donate to the local foodbank.
5. Respect Your Environment
Look after the world around you and encourage your child to do the same. Again, this links back to helping your child to feel part of a wider community where kindness is an important factor. Don’t leave behind litter, and call out your child if he or she litters. Take it one step further and take a rubbish bag and gloves next time you go to the park and pick up some of the litter left behind (being wary of any sharp objects, etc). Talk to your child about the damage that litter can do the environment and wildlife so they understand the importance of keeping their community clean.
6. Encourage Your Child To Be Neighbourly
Another way that we can help our children to be part of a community is to demonstrate neighbourly behaviour and ask your child to do the same. For example, if a neighbour’s wheelie bin has blown over, you can ask your child to help you to put it right. If you know a neighbour has been ill or is going through a difficult time, you could bake some and go with your child to deliver them.
7. Look For The Helpers
Fred Rogers, an American children’s TV presenter known for being kind-hearted once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’”. Whilst we try and shield our children from the terrible events that happen around the world, it’s not always possible and questions are asked. Pointing out the helpers, such as doctors working in war zones or fire-fighters helping in earthquake disaster areas, helps our children to understand that just because terrible things happen, people can still be kind and make a difference.
8. Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings
For children, sharing is hard, especially when the toy is particularly awesome. However, it’s a key skill to learn for developing kindness. When encouraging your child to share, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings about the matter, because whilst we want our children to be kind, we also want them to have self-worth. Once you have acknowledged their feelings you can talk about the feelings of the other child, giving your child an alternative perspective and in time, encouraging empathy and a desire to share. For example, “Yes, I know you love playing with your train and you want to hold onto it, but Eva is only here for a couple of hours and she would really like to have a turn before she goes home, because she doesn’t have one at home.”
9. Don’t Shy From Apologies
Sometimes as parents we get it wrong. We might snap at our children when we are tired or stressed, or forget an important event at the school, etc. In these moments, it’s important to take time to apologise to your child for your wrongdoings. This shows your child that you are capable of humility and acknowledging their feelings, which are key attributes for a kind person. In the same way, always encourage your child to say sorry for the things they have done wrong, and talk to them about the importance of making amends.
10. Use Books To Teach Empathy
When reading with your child, take some time to explore the feelings of the characters once you have reached the end of the story or page. Ask your child how they think a particular character is feeling as a result of the situation they are in. For example, “How do you think the rabbit felt when the Highway Rat stole her food?” Understanding how people feel, and being able to recognise those feelings in different situations is an important skill for children to learn and it is how they will develop empathy. Having empathy for others will help your child to become a kinder person.