We all think we are kind, don't we? How do we become kind though? Is it a natural stage of development that just happens with maturity? Maybe not quite.
I started babysitting when I was 12 and by the time I was 15 I decided I never wanted to have children because they were all so mean! Why are little kids so mean sometimes? They seem to think it's great fun to be mean. Does anyone ever think it's great fun to be kind?
Children need to see kindness in action and feel the benefit of it often in order for it to become a natural state of being. Some personality types may seem naturally more kind than others, but kindness is not specifically a
personality trait, it's more of a learned habit. Just as we teach our children to walk, talk and care for themselves, we have to put some daily focused effort into teaching kindness through our words and actions. Here are some tips to help you bring out the kindness in your kids.
Have A Motto or Rule
When I was growing up it was the "Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." For very young children (or if you don't like cliches) you might want to make it more simple, like: "Being kind spreads happiness". When your child asks you, "Why?", you can explain that kindness attracts kindness. If we hurt people's feelings, are rude or mean, then it is more likely that people will also treat us that way. Also, we get a good feeling inside when we act in a kind way, even if the other person isn't kind.
Use Teachable Moments
Open doors for others, be a considerate driver, say please and thank you, and remember that your example is your child's best teacher. There are also moments when we can reinforce the kindness message by asking our child for their opinion, especially when others behave poorly. "Do you think that was a nice thing to do?" (No) "How do you think Becky feels about what Susie said to her?" or "What would you have done if you were in that situation?" Discussing the kindness you see or don't see on a day to day basis helps your child learn how they can modify their own unkind impulses.
Talk About Benefits or Results
In your daily activities and conversations, when the topic of kindness comes up, be sure to point out when a kindness toward someone is rewarded by kindness in return. We don't always get rewarded for being kind, but another thing to point out is that we feel better about ourselves when we treat others with respect, regardless of whether they do likewise. This is a difficult point for young children to understand at first, so it's worth talking about on more than one occasion.
"Would you bring this blanket to Grandpa? I think he might be cold." "Can you share your cookies with Dad? Maybe he would like something sweet too." "We grew so many tomatoes this summer, lets see if our neighbors would like some." At home, in the neighborhood and in our community there are many opportunities to express kindness toward others. Without much trouble parents can create small opportunities on a daily or weekly basis for their child to practice random acts of kindness. Making a suggestion with a little bit of encouragement will help your child become more aware of these opportunities.
With the pressures and responsibilities of being a parent we don't always see ourselves the way our children do. Our frustrations, or tired and cranky moods, can be perceived as meanness and taken personally by our children. One way to avoid this is by labeling your feelings, and clarifying that the cause of your feelings is not your child. Then try to do a kind act, or say something kind to your child. This will provide a powerful example for your child of how it's possible to be kind even when you don't feel like it.
Feel free to share some of your own random acts of kindness in the comments.