One of our greatest hopes is that our children will grow up to be kind and good people. When your child is given an opportunity to help others, we hope he will. We certainly don’t want him to be cruel, intolerant, or prejudiced. But how do we get this all to happen?
The good news is that kindness can be learned. The primary way that most children learn most behavior is by watching those around them. As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your child by example. A child’s brain is especially mold-able. If you want to encourage your child to be a kind person, you have the ability to do it.
With all of the difficulties the world has been experiencing in this last year, you still have an opportunity to teach kindness in a practical way. Floods, hurricanes, shootings, and the everyday problems of poverty are all opportunities to talk about ways to help and to be kind.
Talk with your child about people you know or groups of people you know who have experienced problems. Let him pick a child and send that child a letter. Kindness can sometimes be as simple as a wish for the other person to be okay. Your child could pick out a school or a doctor’s office to send a note wishing someone the best in a difficult time.
Just expressing concern for another is kindness. Sending his good wishes that someone “May they be happy,” “May they be healthy” or “May they be safe.” This practice helps kids get into the habit of thinking kind thoughts more often.
Another way to be kind is to compliment others. Again, this is the kind of behavior that is learned. Talk with your child about saying nice things to other people. Let him learn about compliments. We all know it feels good to receive a compliment. One way to be sure to teach this lesson is to give compliments to your child.
Encourage your child to smile. The mere act of smiling encourages others to smile. This is why they say smiling is contagious.
Helping of any kind is a positive lesson for your child. Let him see you helping other people or even helping animals. Involving kids in volunteer work teaches them that it feels good to be helpful. Many organizations that you as a parent might belong to, encourage parents to include their children in some of their activities.
Causes you can support are all around if you just take a look. You might collect garbage from the park, visit a local retirement home, or clean out your closets to make a donation to those in need all while including your child. Giving to a charitable cause like United Way or the Humane Society encourages your child to think about doing the same.
He needs to see you making out a check or delivering it to the group to understand that you are supporting some cause. Make sure he understands what you are doing. Perhaps your child will be inspired to fund-raise or volunteer for a good cause.
But don’t forget your neighbors. Just teaching your child that you are going to your neighbor’s house to check on the elderly person who lives there is a lesson in kindness.
Talk with him about the importance of standing up for classmates who are having a difficult time. Helping someone who is being bullied is a great act of kindness. Just talking about it helps teach him about this act of kindness.
Even being a polite driver teaches kindness. Saying thank you when your child does the right thing. Giving him a hug is another kind way to show your love.
So look around. How can you teach kindness? Ways are everywhere. You probably can find 50 things in a day that demonstrates kindness. You just need to look.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.