Earlier this week was Random Acts of Kindness Day, which celebrates the importance of kindness and caring. Teaching children the value of kindness and caring can be a daunting task. Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project provides five ways to foster kindness and caring in your child.
1. Make developing caring, loving relationships with your children an important priority.
To learn to be compassionate and kind, children need their parents to maintain healthy, loving relationships with them. Parents can create these relationships by spending time with their children, paying attention to their children’s physical and emotional needs, and discussing their children’s feelings. Setting aside regular times to spend with your children and engaging them in meaningful conversation whenever the opportunity arises also helps them feel cared for and loved.
2. Encourage children to expand their social circles beyond their family and friends.
Most children care deeply about their small circle of family and friends, but they need encouragement to expand that circle beyond those few key individuals. Children will learn to express empathy for others if you talk with them about children they know who are facing challenges or needs (for example, the new kid on the block, or someone who is struggling with a disability) and encourage them to listen to people who are different than they are.
3. Look for opportunities to practice caring for others in some way.
We want children to be kind, caring, and grateful. In order to develop those traits, however, children need repetition and practice. You can help your child develop these characteristics in a number of ways. For example, you can encourage your child to develop a sense of fairness by finding ways for him or her to pitch in around the house. Or ask your child to collect empty bottles, take them to a recycling center that pays for the items that you bring in, and then take your child to the supermarket and have him or her drop the money in the donation jar at the checkout line. Make sure to acknowledge when your child has done a kind deed—unless you point it out, they will not know that they have been kind!
4. Act as a role model for children by modeling kindness and compassion yourself.
Children learn how to treat others by watching their parents and friends. When providing a model for your children to emulate, remember to use both words and deeds. For example, you might thank the pizza delivery guy, be a good neighbor and take your neighbor’s trash can out to the curb for trash pickup, or model humility and honesty by admitting your own mistakes and saying you’re sorry.
5. Help children learn how to manage their feelings more effectively.
Children often experience frustration, have meltdowns, and otherwise act impulsively and need help learning how to manage those strong feelings. Rather than telling your child that he or she is overreacting when he or she gets upset, teach your children to deal with strong feelings, including frustration, anger, jealousy, or embarrassment, more effectively. To do so, remind your children that all feelings are OK. After encouraging them to identify negative feelings, show them to more effectively manage those feelings by stopping, taking some deep breaths, and counting to five or ten when they are frustrated or upset.
Remember that being kind should not be reserved for just one day. Make it your focus to spread kindness throughout the entire year.