As parents, we want our kids to have a good life. We want children who are happy, who are able to achieve their goals, and who make a positive impact on the world.
Unfortunately, what sometimes gets left behind is the lesson of kindness. We have become so overly concerned that our children reach milestones and are having a good time, that many grow up with a sense of entitlement and care little for anyone but themselves.
Fortunately, kindness is something that’s teachable, and as parents, we’re in the position to be the best teachers of all.
1. Pause before you speak
How many of us have jumped right into the middle of an argument between our youngsters, keen on correcting one or both kids?
One typical example is a child taking a toy from another. Rather than instructing the other child to give the toy back or coming up with a punishment, you could say something along the lines of, “I see you both would like to play with that toy.”
By changing the language, we can teach children from a very young age to start learning empathy. As a bonus, when we model this behaviour as parents, we too are teaching ourselves how to be more empathetic to our children and others.
2. Use kind language
Kindness has to be a family value if you expect your kids to stick with it. This means no name calling, not using rude phrases when speaking to one another (such as saying “shut up”) and speaking positively about one another.
Using the word “kind” will bring your child’s attention to it and help support its importance. Here are some phrases you can use in your home to promote kindness:
- “Thank you, that was very kind!”
- “Can you think of a kinder way to say that?”
- “Would you be kind enough to help mummy with the laundry?”
3. Say you’re sorry
Parenting can feel like being in the midst of a war zone. It’s messy, it’s confusing, and there is a wide margin of error.
Owning our own mistakes is a major part of modelling kindness for our kids. When we do something wrong or if we yell at our kids, apologise. It’s not a sign of weakness; it shows children that everyone should take responsibility for their mistakes which is both respectful and kind.
4. List kind acts
Discuss how both you and your children can show kindness through your daily actions. Write them down and tack that list up on a wall or the refrigerator so that the family regularly sees what they can do to make someone else’s life better today.
Some examples of kind acts could be:
- Sitting with a student at school who has no one to play with at lunch
- Giving money or food to a homeless person
- Offering your seat to a person on the subway or the bus
- Holding the door open for someone coming in behind you
- Offering to help with a household chore without having to be asked
5. Define kindness in your own words
Another great way to reinforce kindness is to come up with a series of “Kindness is…” statements. For example:
- Kindness is smiling at a stranger in the park
- Kindness is helping someone in need
- Kindness is doing nice things for others
Everyone should write at least one statement in their own words. This will reinforce their own sense of kindness, so it isn’t confusing and feels natural to them.
6. Give kids responsibilities
A growing number of children aren’t helping out around the household. Our children may be busier than children of past generations, but there’s real value in having them contribute meaningfully around the house.
Research has shown that when kids have chores they aren’t paid for, they become more empathetic. They develop a greater concern for those beyond themselves.
The chores have to be age appropriate, of course. But even toddlers are able to pick up their toys and place them back in their toy chest.
7. Turn off digital negativity
There are a lot of reasons to limit screen time for kids and for ourselves. It turns out kindness is yet another reason to switch off the television and put down the smartphone.
From violent video games and sassy kids’ programming to the evening news, negativity is everywhere. It’s important that we as parents limit their exposure to it so that we don’t raise fearful children who are more interested in their own survival than that of another person.
Kindness is looking outward – not inward
In today’s “selfie” culture, it’s more important than ever to teach kids to stop thinking about themselves and to consider the feelings and needs of others. With practice and patience, both parents and our kids will be able to enjoy the enhanced happiness that comes with a kinder, more empathetic mindset.