Practicing kindness generates good feeling, a broader understanding of the world, and fosters happiness in both the giver and receiver. Most people would agree that it is an important virtue to teach our children. Here are some strategies to encourage kindness in children.
The bedrock of kindness is empathy, the ability to put oneself in someone elses shoes and feel compassion for their experience. Help children adapt to different kinds of people and encourage them to look below the surface. Why is that little boy so quiet? Is he shy? Afraid? Why might a friend seem sad? Is there something your child can do to help them feel better? Ask your child what helps him when he experiences similar feelings, and encourage him to try out different ways of being there for others.
Help your child understand that manners arent simply conventions; they are ways of showing respect for and honoring other people. A rule, such as not interrupting others, is way of valuing what someone has to say. Saying thank you is a way of showing gratitude and acknowledging someone elses effort.
Be kind to your kids.
Show your children that you love them, respect them and value their feelings. Practice good manners with them. Never berate your children or call them names.
Set limits with your kids.
Being kind doesnt mean that you are always nice. Children need limits and to need to respect your authority. They will need to be told when they are out of line and punished accordingly. Limits are about teaching your child how to be in the world and to treat others with respect. In many ways, setting limits is a way of teaching children the standards of respectful and kind behavior.
Reinforce acts of kindness in children.
If your daughter brings you a bouquet of flowers, show your joy. If you see your son sharing his favorite game with a friend, acknowledge it. Encourage children to give cards when people are sick or to thank them for gifts.
Encourage children to be kind to the world at large.
Reach out in your community in some way. Perhaps you can volunteer at a local soup kitchen, visit the sick or the elderly, or walk the dogs at the local animal shelter. Often, giving back to the world can be a family practice.
Treat others with respect, demonstrate thoughtfulness, volunteer, and practice empathy. Children are more likely to internalize what you do, than what you say to do.
Cindy Jett, LICSW is a psychotherapist and author of Harry the Happy Caterpillar Grows, an acclaimed picture book that helps the anxious child face his fears and helps children adapt to change.