Even before they are born, we dream of the things we want most for our kids. We want them to be happy, healthy, well rounded and successful. We’d love for them to earn great grades and get into a good college.
But deep down, what we want most is to raise kids who are kind. Compassionate. Kids who given the choice to be giving or loving to another human being or walking right past them – they would choose to give. That’s the kind of character we want to see in our kids and it’s worth more than any trophy, blue ribbon, straight-A report card or even college acceptance letter.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s wonderful to see our kids achieve goals and excel at their talents. But when you see your child help someone to their car, mow a lawn for a neighbor in need, be kind and gentle with children and elderly people – there’s nothing quite like that kind of parental pride.
If you want to cultivate more kindness and character in your kids, here are a few strategies that will help…
1) Teach them to serve rather than be served. One of the best ways to give kids practice in real-world kindness is to serve others. Get the whole family involved to serve people in need. Find opportunities to lend a hand with any place of worship, local scout troops, Habitat for Humanity, animal shelters, nursing homes, even the guidance department at your child’s school. When kids realize the impact they can make by serving and being kind to others– you begin to foster a servant’s heart in them, and that’s a beautiful thing.
2) Participate in random acts of kindness. This concept is so powerful there’s even an international day to celebrate it (November 13th is World Kindness Day) and a website devoted to it: www.randomactsofkindness.org. When we perform a random act of kindness, it creates a ripple effect with others continuing to pay it forward. Letting your kids see you perform random acts of kindness and encouraging them to do the same – without promise of reward or anything in return – is empowering and exciting. It’s a great way to teach kids about the power they have to spread generosity and kindness in their world. Many acts of kindness don’t have to cost a dime! Visit that site today for some amazing stories you can share with your kids and fantastic ideas for performing random acts of kindness in your community.
3) Foster empathy. When we teach our children to put themselves in another’s shoes and see things from the other person’s point of view, it changes the way they look at the world. Help your kids fine tune their sense of empathy and pair it with a healthy dose of kindness.
Start by having conversations such as, “I noticed our neighbor Mrs. Green was moving really slowly to her mailbox today. It turns out she hurt her leg. What do you think we can do to help her?”
Or, you can even talk about this process in hypotheticals such as, “Suppose a classmate is at a party and doesn’t know anyone. How do you think she would feel? What could you do to help her feel more welcome and included?” As your kids practice this, they’ll get better and better at reading emotions and learning how to turn that into an act of kindness for people all around them. It’s a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives.
4) Teach your children that everyone has a story. While it’s easy to knee-jerk react to someone’s behavior, especially bad behavior, it’s important to teach our kids that there’s always more to behavior than meets the eye. Remind your kids that everyone has a story.
Maybe the mean girl at school is desperate for attention because she doesn’t get any at home. Or, the kid that wears the same outfit almost every day to school does so because he doesn’t have any other clothes that fit. Teach your kids to look at the behavior of others and instead of judging, take a moment to think about the why’s. “I wonder why John seems so angry all the time. I don’t think he’s a bad person, there’s probably a lot more to his story than we know.”
When we remember that everyone comes fully loaded with a backstory of their own, we’re more likely to judge less and empathize more.
I love the idea of celebrating kindness this month – and every month. It’s one of the best traits you can nurture in your family. It is also a huge factor in curbing entitlement in our kids. It helps them look at the world from beyond their own needs and wants and start to consider others before themselves. And that’s something to be GRATEFUL for all year around!
Amy McCready's new book is The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. Learn more at AmyMcCready.com.