As parents we make sure our children learn how to read and write - and yet we often assume children will naturally develop skills like kindness and empathy.
You wouldn’t think that you need to be teaching your kid to be kind - but, like reading and writing –
Emotional intelligence doesn’t come naturally to all children.
Some children miss the subtle signs that they are upsetting those around them. Some children have a hard time putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Some children have a hard time knowing how to be kind.
So, how do you help teach your kids to be kind?
There are some easy steps to build empathy and kindness in your children.
1. Model kind behavior.
Do you make fun of strangers? Do you talk bad about your relatives or friends when they aren’t there? Do you treat your spouse, pets or even kids in a degrading fashion some times?
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If you tell your child to be kind, but you are modeling negative, unkind behavior – your words will have little impact on their behavior. Children do as they see – not as you tell them to do. Be a wonderful role model for your child.
Show your child respect when redirecting them or disciplining them. Speak to your spouse with kindness. Your children will learn from your example.
2. Highlight people’s emotions around you.
If your child has a hard time reading social cues, practice a game I like to call “Guess the Feeling.” Sit at a park or in a mall and watch people. If you love people watching – this game shouldn’t be too hard.
Find someone showing an extreme emotion - such as excitement, sadness or anger. Ask your child, “What do you think they’re feeling?” Ask them to make up a story about what may be happening.
This helps children identify non-verbal clues as to how others feel and helps them put meaning behind emotions.
3. Reassess how you tease your children – is it demeaning, taunting or degrading?
Some families love to tease each other, but some children can’t take intense teasing. Some parents do not think their teasing is cruel – but if your child reacts by crying and storming off – chances are they are feeling degraded.
Would you want your child to make fun of peers the way you are making fun of them? Some parents might think they are just “toughening up” their children or being playful, but kids will often take it out on their peers.
Children learn how to be playful by the tone their family sets. If mean spirited taunting is acceptable at home – then children will think it is acceptable elsewhere.
4. Point out how their behavior affects those around them.
When your child’s behavior is affecting those around them – point it out. Let your child know how they are affecting others without shaming them.
An example might be something like, “You hit her and now she is so sad. Look at that red mark you left on her face. You wouldn’t want her to put a red mark on your face. I would be very upset with her if she hurt you. I love you both and don’t want either of you hurt.”
5. Teach your children the joys of helping others.
Be an example for your children and help strangers, friends and family. Let them know that it feels good to help others – even if you get nothing back. Set up opportunities for you to help others as a family.
Teach your child that even small acts of kindness go along way. Express to your child why you are holding the door for another person, letting someone get in front of you in traffic or helping someone when their hands are full. Explain that it is nice to be helpful, even if the person doesn’t say thank you or appreciate it. You should give to give – not give to get.
If you allow your child to talk rudely to you – they might think it is acceptable to talk to others that way as well. Kindness starts at home.
There are ways to correct your child’s tone and improve their manners without being punitive. Read my article 4 Tips to Get your Kids to Talk Nicely to You – Without Correcting Them.
Most of us would be shocked if we heard our children were treating others unkindly. But, If we don’t teach these skills to our children – we may not be helping them be the best person they can be! Learning kindness begins at home
For more parenting articles visit AnxiousToddlers.com.