Kindness is an important character trait. We all have varying degrees of how we express kindness, whether it be through words or actions, or more obvious or subtle. Many people believe kindness is innate, we are born with it, and our environment influences whether it is developed or hindered. Whatever you believe, kindness is a trait to nurture in children. Kindness is the glue that keeps society functioning. When we care about another person, whether we know them or not, we extend humanity with an understanding of, "we all matter."
Here are some suggestions on how to raise kind children:
1. Be a Role Model. You are your child's greatest teacher. How you treat yourself, your child, family and friends, and strangers, will be the greatest lesson on kindness. Of course, words are important but often, actions are more powerful. Making a gesture when a driver cuts you off in traffic, talking down to a server at a restaurant, making critical comments about yourself out loud, gossiping about people, all are moments of unkindness to yourself and others.
2. Never Ask Your Child to Do Something You Wouldn't Ask Yourself. When we hold our children to a higher standard of conduct and behavior than we have for ourselves, not only is it confusing, it also undermines the respect our children have for us and the credibility of our words.
3. Community Service. Create a habit of helping and expressing kindness in the community. Some ideas are volunteering at a shelter, collecting food for a food pantry, making food for a homeless shelter, reading to elderly in a nursing home or helping someone going through crisis or struggle. Helping those in your community in need is a wonderful way to foster kindness to those in need.
4. Foster Awareness. There is a balance between having a child learn about those in need and suffering and fostering optimism. Work to keep information developmentally appropriate for your child's age. Encourage how their actions and kindness do make a difference and help improve the world.
5. One Person Can Make a Difference. We all have seen too often, whether in the news, our personal lives, or in our community, how unkind people can be to one another. By teaching hope, that one person does make a difference, you will encourage your child to continue kindness, even if the direct results may not seem obvious. I hear so often how a stranger's kindness made a huge difference in my clients work.
6. Be Unique. There are many ways to be kind. Encourage your child to follow their heart and express kindness through what comes naturally for them. Everyone has a contribution to express kindness.
7. Watch Your Language. Suspend using "bad" labels. For example, he's a bad person for what he did. Or she's bad for not listening to her parents. Instead, shift into language that highlights behaviors and choices. He did not make a good choice yelling at the teacher. She could have made a better choice by listening to her parents. Helps separate and keep it concrete for kids by labeling the behavior, not the person.
8. Talk About Kindness. Talk with your child about kindness. Ask them how they feel when someone is kind to them. Ask them about a time when someone was unkind and how it made them feel. Talk about a time when they made unkind choices and how they imagine the other person felt. Then ask, if they were in the situation again, is there a kind way of acting.
9. Consequences for Harsh Words & Behavior. If your child has been unkind to someone, make sure to have consequences in place for undesirable words or actions. Time-outs, taking a break and apologizing are important components of teaching a child how hurtful behaviors and unkindness is not acceptable.
10. Don't Mistake Kindness for Pleasing. Being kind is different that being perfect, aiming to please others and self-sacrificing. Teach your child that he/she has a right to be respected, treated kindly by others and intimidation, coercion and shame to shape a child into conformity is different than being kind.
11.Teachable Moments. There are many teachable moments of witnessing either unkindness or kindness when we are with our children. Use these moments to talk, process and teach your child. Ask your child his/her thoughts on the situation and what he/she thinks was good behavior, a not so good behavior, and if the person could have done something different.
12. Be Kind to Your Child. Its impossible to give to others what you don't have for yourself. Treat your child with kindness and he/she will shine kindness to the world.
Remember, teaching your child about kindness, like many things in parenting, is an on-going process. Life will give you plenty of teachable and talkable moments. And again, don't forget, parents are the greatest teachers and role-models on kindness.