Want your kids to develop a strong sense of belonging and great self-esteem? Then teach them to show kindness. It can be easy to take action during Random Acts of Kindness Week (in February) or holiday drives, but weaving kindness into your children’s daily lives can take a bit more effort. However, the benefits to both them and society are worth it.
Of course, the most obvious place to start is by encouraging manners. “Please,” “thank you” and other words of respect and gratitude are important to use from an early age. Try expanding this with “Are you ok?”, “What would you like?” and similar language to encourage empathy and other kind traits.
Modeling language and behavior is important, but sometimes you need examples outside of your everyday life, or to reinforce concepts. Starting a book list can provide resources to draw from. Parenting magazines, blogs, your school counselor, and the library can all be good sources. In our house we let everyone select a bedtime book, then at the weekend we incorporate parental choice.
Kindness role models
There are plenty of positive role models to share with youngsters. Youth literature is full of them, and shows featuring superheroes are a big hit. Turning to real life, there are many historical figures to learn about, while the good deeds of doctors and other community workers are easy for them to relate to. Look for reported kind acts to share with them.
Setting weekly kindness goals can provide structure and ensure some consistency. Try adding these to the weekend dinner table conversation. A leisurely meal can become a “family meeting” if everyone is asked for input. Our goals have ranged from making hug cards for older church members to delivering confetti balloons for some new year cheer.
Family conversations can also be a time for more in-depth exploration. Pick a topic and involve everyone. National Geographic magazine, Time for Kids or one of the kindness/empathy conversation starter cards available on Etsy are all good places to start. The natural compassion of little ones always amazes me.
[Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners]
From bringing youngsters along on errands for friends to serving at food pantries, there are opportunities to do good deeds or volunteer at every age. By incorporating their skills – as performers, conversationalists, or organizers – they will likely enjoy the process and seek out other opportunities to give.
We use kindness "coins" to reward examples of generous behavior, something our children take great pride in receiving. They’ve also passed them along to the crossing guard, teachers and their peers, in recognition of the acts of others. We like this idea of recognizing positive actions without resorting to bribery.
Sometimes it can seem like there’s just too much to get done to add anything else to the mix. But the kindness of kids will warm your heart, while allowing them to become the considerate and humane beings they’re destined to be.