As a mother of two boys, I hope to raise gentlemen in the world. So often it’s easy to overlook the cauldron of our children’s character in an effort to thrust ahead. But success can be fleeting, and solid character can serve them well for a lifetime. While we cannot control our children’s future actions, there are steps we can take to help build their internal compass as they grow. Along those lines, here are four ways to nurture kindness that I’ve found helpful:
1. Start young. While our children will be influenced by what we model and encourage at any age, we have a unique window of opportunity when they’re little to shape them. We have a captive audience as we help frame their world.
2. Reward positive behavior. Our children will remember what we taught, encouraged, and applauded so that our voice will be a guiding one when we are not right there beside them. Our job is to catch the little things: the sharing we witness at a play date, the self-sacrifice we observe for a friend, or the unprompted concern we see demonstrated for a stranger.
3. Label praise wisely. How we praise our children is just as important as doing it. I’ve learned to applaud the behavior, not the person. For instance, if my son does something kind, I don’t say, “You are such a kind person.” Instead, I say, “Good job. That’s kindness.” Ultimately, we don’t want our children to equate their personal value with what they do or don’t do; we want them to be able to identify good behavior and replicate it.
4. Choose their environments carefully. The largest benefit will come from quality time spent with us as parents, but our children will need exposure to environments that reinforce our values. Where they spend time matters. There are faith-based and secular programing options that are designed to character build either through school or extracurriculars.
Some days are kinder than others at our house, despite trying our best. But I’m happy to have a framework in place that helps us nurture how we want to be as individuals and a family. As I look into the future, I know I will celebrate my children’s accomplishments, but I hope they’ll come second to the incidentals that reflect the inner person.
In his first month of grade school, my son was recognized for a “Consideration of Others” award. The teacher described him as kind; not kind because he was looking for accolade, but because of his nature. She observed him being polite and caring towards others. As I looked into his eyes brimming with pride, I realized our effort training our children makes a difference to someone else too.