Are your kids kind? Most children brought up in a loving environment will develop awareness, respect and courtesy to those around them, though it can take a few years for this behavior to fully mature.
Kindness is a mix of altruism, generosity, empathy, respect, love and thoughtfulness. It’s not easy to define, though we know it when we see it. Kindness can be something we show to close family or to complete strangers. The more kindness we have in our homes, communities and society, then the better for everyone. But how do you teach kindness? Can you teach kindness? How do you make sure your kids grow into helping, caring individuals? Below are some general thoughts, followed by some very simple, specific ideas to help them on the path.
General Ways To Motivate Kindness
Most -- though by no means all -- kids begin to show signs of empathy and kindness from the age of 2. Before then, the brain just isn’t wired up to understand that the person staring back has thoughts, feelings, pain and pleasure. Even after 2, it can take many years before children are really thinking carefully about the feelings of those around them.
It’s not really possible to teach kindness, as you might teach maths, English or science. It’s a practical behavior that is learned by example. If the kids see you acting kindly to those around you, then they will hopefully follow suit. Avoid lecturing the kids about being kind, and stick to the more positive feedback of rewarding or cheering good behavior. Younger children often imitate their older siblings, so if you continue to reward the older child’s good behavior, chances are that you’ll have some virtuous mimicry before too long.
Always emphasise the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when children are first learning to speak, and make a bit of a fuss the first few times they remember to say these words, or when they do something kind like bring you a card they made for you at kindergarten or school.
Finally, you could try building some lessons in kindness into their play. If your child’s into action figures or dolls, for example, you could pretend one of them has a minor problem… perhaps Barbie’s lost a shoe, or G.I. Joe’s feeling a bit lonely. How will your child react and try to help them? A bit of roleplaying with the toy box is a fun and easy way to model real-world situations and explore the different ways we might act and help.
Encourage Random Acts Of Kindness
Did you know that there’s a Random Acts of Kindness Day? This year (2021) it’s on 17 February. The day encourages people everywhere to do something kind, however small. Our options are more limited this year, with social distancing and lockdown measures still in place. However, there are still simple things children can do, such as phoning someone (e.g. an elderly relative) who’s on their own for a chat, writing a letter, donating to a charity or foodbank, helping parents with chores, or simply planning out lots of nice surprises for when we’re all more free to mix and interact.
Leave A Book For Someone To Find
“If you love something set it free. If it’s yours it will come back. If it doesn’t it never was.” Those words were hand-written inside the front cover of a book I recently chanced across while out for my grocery shop. It added an extra sparkle of magic to the discovery of a free novel. Leaving a book for someone else to find, and hopefully enjoy, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to unleash some anonymous kindness. If your child’s bookshelves are groaning under the weight of old books they’ve perhaps grown out of, then consider leaving some as chance gifts for someone else. You could even encourage the kids to leave a short message in the front for whoever finds the book. It’ll make their day. Leave the book somewhere it won’t get wet, and preferably in a place where nobody could consider it litter (see next item).
Litter Picking And Recycling
Taking the time to pick up discarded wrappers, cans and other trash is one very practical way to get children interested in making a positive change. It might not be an activity that is directly kind to people, but it does inculcate an awareness of the environment, and kindness to the planet. Be sure to take appropriate hygiene measures, and consider using a litter picker if possible.
Kids can also play a leading role at home in helping with the recycling. You can teach them from an early age to make sure they put their waste into the correct bins. Try these eco-friendly activities. You could even put them in charge. Give them the job of overseeing the bins and making sure they’re put out for collection on the right day. And ask them to think about ways you could cut down on packaging in the first place.
Finally, you could get the kids to leave a colourful ‘thank you’ note for the garbage collectors, who so rarely get an appreciation for doing their job. This one was left on the bin store of my own block of flats.
Send A Card Or Letter To Friends
Receiving an unexpected, hand-written letter is one of the simple pleasures in life, though one that’s increasingly rare in a world of instant messaging and video calls. But getting children to write to their friends and family is a double win -- they’ll not only delight their correspondent, but they’ll also get practice at putting down their thoughts onto paper. See our guide to writing and crafting cards, and our more educational piece on the basics of letter writing.
You could also use birthdays as a way of talking about kindness and making other people happy. Try sitting down with your child and ask them to think carefully about the person whose birthday is coming up. What does that person really like? What shared experiences with them do you most treasure? Then try to reflect these on the card or gift they make for the birthday. This will get the child to really think about the other person, rather than simply drawing another card with a big love heart on the front (nice thought that is!).
Donate To Food Banks
Food banks have never been under so much pressure as during the global pandemic, with increasing numbers of people out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Most communities have at least one food bank where more fortunate people can leave a donation, such as tinned food and dry goods -- often housed inside supermarkets. Encourage your children to contribute an item to the local food bank using their pocket money if they can. You can also use this as an opportunity to explain why food banks are necessary at the moment, and wider societal issues they reflect. This will help them feel like they’re playing a part in their local community, and hopefully encourage a lifelong motivation to lend a hand to those less fortunate.
Go Volunteering Together
The idea of leading by example is amplified when you’re both contributing to a greater cause. Volunteering is one of the best ways to motivate older kids and teens into being kind and thoughtful about their world. Environmental projects, such as clearing out the local waterways, woods or foreshore are particularly good options. Volunteers not only get the buzz of helping to re-beautify the environment, they also get closer to nature, build up team-working skills, take ownership of their surroundings, and also get a good workout.
And Finally… Show Them All The Little Courtesies
Every day brings opportunities to be kind to people, especially outside of lockdown periods when we can mingle more freely with the wider community. Make sure you do all of the following, to show by example how to be courteous to those around us:
Hold doors open for those following behind.
Give up your seat on public transport for anyone who might need it more than you.
If you see someone struggling with a heavy load, ask if you can help.
Don’t play with your phone while in company.
Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!
Treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.
See Also: 25 further small acts of kindness
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