“If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.” -Unknown
Most parents want their children to grow into caring and sensitive adults. Human beings are hard wired for kindness. In order for our children to become empathic and considerate adults, parents need to consciously encourage kindness.
Fortunately, there are six ways in which parents can teach their children to be kind:
BE THE EXAMPLE
As parents, you are the primary role model for your child. They will look up to you and mirror your behavior (whether you realize it or not). Children learn how to behave, act and deal with life situations primarily from watching their parents. If you want your kid to be a kind and compassionate person, you need to act this way yourself.
This does not mean you can never be angry or frustrated. Life happens. The way you respond to difficult life experiences is also a modeling opportunity for your child. Be a realistic role model. Explain the reason why you are frustrated, and how you plan to deal with it in a constructive, helpful way.
Be consistently polite and courteous.
HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND THEIR FEELINGS
Feelings are feelings. They do not hold intrinsic value until you assign value to them. Happy, sad, hurt, mad are the basic feelings.
Empathy is defined as understanding and being aware of the feelings and emotions of other people. In order to understand others’ feelings, children need to understand their own feelings.
From a young age, coach your kids to understand their feelings. If your child is angry, help the child understand:
- Describe what you are feeling.
- When did this feeling start?
- Who or what caused this feeling to happen?
When you practice this process consistently, your child will eventually learn to understand their own feelings, as well as how they can feel better about the situation.
A friend of mine, when her twin boys were young, used to zero in on the feelings involved. When playing got a bit too rough, causing one of the boys to come crying to Mom, Sara leaped into action. Taking the boy’s hands in hers, she looked into his eyes and said, “Okay. Do we see blood anywhere? No. Okay then, your feelings were hurt. Let’s talk about it. What happened? Let’s work it out together.”
Feelings are feelings. They are important because they gauge our response to the world.
TUTOR KIDS TO VALUE EMPATHY AND CARING
While growing up, there was occasion when we were required to bring a sack lunch to school. My Mother would fix an extra lunch, then say to us, “Here is an extra lunch for one of your classmates, in case someone doesn’t have a lunch.”
This was a powerful example how the smallest of gestures can make the biggest difference.
Parents shape the framework for kids’ priorities and values. When empathy and caring are taught and modeled, kids are more likely to demonstrate those behaviors themselves.
Stress the significance of kindness.
Help your kids to understand why they need to care about others.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
- Human beings are hard wired for kindness.
- Watch two infants (who don’t know each other) reach out to the other. It is an amazing thing to witness.
- Just like any skill, if you don’t practice kindness, you could lose your touch.
- Give kids a chance to practice kindness. Some ideas:
- Encourage them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
- Have them help you to volunteer.
- Send extra pencils to school, in case a classmate needs one.
- Teach them to pay someone a compliment.
- Teach them how to write a thank you note, put a stamp on it and mail it.
- Teach them how to set a formal table.
Little things can make a big difference. Keep practicing.
BE CONSISTENT & RELIABLE
If you are teaching your children how to be courteous and kind, yet you’re impatient and rude while in rush hour traffic, this sends a mixed signal to the child. There are going to be times when you are frustrated—this is okay—use this opportunity to explain to your child how & why you feel this way. And share with them that you are doing the best you can.
The key is how you respond to a situation. Teach your children that even if other people are mean or rude, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat everyone with compassion and kindness.
RECOGNIZE AND REINFORCE KIND BEHAVIOR
Once your children understand empathy and kindness, make sure to recognize and reinforce their positive behavior. This will help them to continue to be kind and courteous. When you see your child acting in a kind way, let them know you are proud of them. If it was a difficult situation, still be proud of them by saying, “That was hard, and you did the best you could. I’m proud of you.”
Make sure you acknowledge your child’s behavior when they return home from a friend’s house or other events. Ask:
- Were you polite?
- Did you respect their home?
- Pick up after yourself?
- Did you use your good manners?
- Did you ask permission?
- Cheer up someone when they were feeling sad?
- Did you remember to wipe your shoes before going into the house?
- Did you respect your friend’s toys?
- Did you thank the friend’s parent for having you over?
It is important to reinforce kind and courteous behavior of your children even when you are not around.
Your child’s good behavior does make a difference.
Is your child kind?
Ready, Set…time to say please and thank you again.
Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.
Ready, Set…Time to Say Please and Thank You again.