My six year-old daughter and I talk about kindness often. She is capable of showing huge displays of kindness. From looking after a ‘pet’ spider who has hurt his leg to comforting her two year-old brother when he falls over, she has a great propensity to be kind.
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But, as with every child, she can also be very impulsive and finds it difficult to empathize with others. A few minutes after showing kindness towards her brother, she may snatch a toy from him because she wanted to play with it. She often argues with her friends over who will play the main part in games and who gets to take their turn first.
While children are instinctively caring and compassionate, they also think about themselves first and can struggle to see the world from the point of view of others. It is a confliction that I see my daughter struggle with daily.
It’s my job to teach my children how to empathize with others and show them the values that will enable them to practice ongoing kindness.
Not only will this help them to contribute to a better world, many studies have shown that kind people are happier people. And that’s all we want for our children long term isn’t it? For them to be happy and content with their lives.
That said it can be tricky to teach a child to be kind, especially when they may be feeling angry, tired or upset.
Here are some simple ways I have found to teach children to be kind:
1. Lead By Example
If you show empathy towards others your children will follow suit. Lecturing children about kindness won’t make any difference – they need to see kindness in action. This begins in the home.
When children witness their parents being kind, honest and fair to each other and other family members, they will view this as normal behavior.
When children see their parents helping out in the local community or volunteering for a charity, they will naturally want to do the same. My daughter and I often talk about my volunteer work and I involve her with it as much as I can.
2. Talk About Feelings
It can be difficult for a child to empathize and view a situation from another person’s point of view. It is possible to help a child to achieve this by regularly talking about how their actions may make another person feel.
This reinforces to them that other people have feelings too and those feelings are just as valid as their own.
Once my daughter came home from school and told me about a girl in her class who didn’t have anyone to play with. My daughter felt sorry for her and asked her to join in with her game.
We talked about how the other child may have felt when she had nobody to play with. We also discussed how good it felt to be kind.
3. Apologize For Mistakes
We all have times when we are tired or angry and we may say or do things we didn’t mean to. When I lose my temper, I always apologize to my children and explain what happened and why I was wrong.
I hope that this shows them that we all make mistakes and also helps them to practice forgiveness.
Once my daughter upset another child at school and the child’s mother spoke to me about it. My daughter and I talked about this at length and she decided that she would make a card to say sorry.
It’s important for children to learn to apologize even though they can find it tricky to do so at times.
4. Reward Kindness
While we don’t reward actions that are expected in our house (such as my daughter making her bed or putting her toys away), larger acts of kindness and compassion are always rewarded.
These could be acts like comforting someone who is upset or helping an elderly neighbor.
5. Practice Gratitude
I’m a big believer in the benefits of practicing gratitude. Kids can learn this too by always thanking others who have helped them e.g. in a shop, restaurant or at school.
Gratitude is something that can be practiced daily, for example by listing three things that you and your child are both grateful for.
6. Point Out Acts Of Kindness
If you are watching a film together and one of the characters does something kind, you can make sure your child is aware of this by asking them to describe the act of kindness and talking about how the characters involved may have felt.
This can also be applied to real life situations that a child experiences at school or when playing with friends.
7. Keep A Kindness Journal
My daughter and I have just started a kindness journal, where we both record one act of kindness we have carried out each day. We chose the journal together and she decorated it with little pictures and stickers.
At the end of the week, she receives a reward for her kindness towards others. By taking all of these simple steps, I hope to make kindness an ongoing habit for my children. I hope that as adults they will emit kindness without ever having to give it a second thought.