Every day, stories about bad guys fill the news, but it’s the stories of kindness that really stand out. Whether it’s a fast food employee helping a customer or a group of students checking on a Grandma in the Window, these stories show the importance of being kind. Unfortunately, especially when people are stressed or tensions are high, showing kindness isn’t the norm. Harvard’s Making Caring Common project found that 80 percent of middle and high school students thought achievement and happiness were more important than caring for others. Teachers and parents can help turn those numbers around by teaching kids to be kind. Kindness might not solve all of the world’s problems, but it’s a good place to start.
The first step in teaching kids to be kind is to model kindness. That means it’s time to end the “Mommy Wars”, set aside the political differences, stop pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong, and start focusing on what they’re doing right. You can model kindness by:
- Saying please and thank you
- Regularly telling others what you appreciate about them
- Speaking to others in a pleasant tone, even if they upset you
- Treating others, including children, with respect
- Pitching in when you see a need (without complaining)
- Giving random compliments to others
- Keeping your negative thoughts to yourself
- Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
Kids tend to model the behaviors of the adults around them. If they see you regularly being kind, they will begin to exhibit kindness in their own lives. Of course, no one’s perfect. There will be moments when you tell someone off, hurt someone’s feelings, or fail to help someone in need. Taking the time to apologize when you were less than kind can also help kids learn a lesson about the importance of kindness.
Offering Positive Praise
Just like adults, kids need validation. They want to know that they’re appreciated and that they’re doing the right things. According to Greater Good in Action, kids actually have a propensity towards being kind. Parents and teachers can encourage kids to act on that propensity. Instead of focusing on what kids are always doing wrong, take some time to focus on what they’re doing right, particularly when it comes to kindness. Say things like:
- “You are a very helpful person.”
- “I appreciated it when you said ‘Please’ before you asked me for…”
- “It was a great idea to…”
- “Thanks. That was very kind of you.”
- “I like the way that you thought about others.”
Don’t praise kids every time they act kindly, otherwise they are likely to act a certain way just to receive the praise. Instead, try to point out a few positive moments every week to let kids know you appreciate how kind and helpful they are.
When kids decide not to act kindly, focus more on how it made the other person feel rather than criticizing or punishing the kids. For example, “Did you notice that James looked sad when you called him a name?” or “When you ask me for something without saying please, it makes me feel unimportant.”
Thinking about Kindness
While many kids are born with an innate desire to be kind, parents and teachers still need to plant seeds of kindness in their minds. Talk to kids about what they think it means to be kind. Ask them to share memories of acts of kindness. You can open the conversation with these writing prompts, which also make great discussion questions.
- What is Kindness?
- Being Kind to Someone I Don’t Like
- It is Better to Give than to Receive
- The Ripple Effect
Providing Opportunities to Be Kind
Of course the greatest way to teach kids to be kind is to give them plenty of opportunities to show kindness. These can be big acts of kindness, such as collecting money for charity or taking bags of food to a food pantry, or smaller acts of kindness, such as picking up trash on the playground or giving a friend a hug when they are sad.
Some ways kids can show kindness every day include:
- Holding the door open for others
- Smiling at people who make eye contact with them
- Keeping a gratitude journal and regularly writing what they are thankful for
- Writing thank you notes to others
- Complimenting others
- Waving hello when they see someone they know
- Calling family members they do not see often
- Writing notes or drawing pictures for family and friends
- Asking if they can help when they see someone tackling a big job
- Offering to let a classmate go first
- Saying please and thank you
- Doing their chores without being asked
- Doing things they see that need done without being asked
- Throwing away trash they find on the ground
- Saying “I love you”
- Taking some time to pet and talk to their pets
- Check on elderly neighbors
Some big ways to encourage kids to be kind include:
- Donating some of their clothes or toys to charity
- Serving a meal at a homeless shelter
- Visiting a nursing home or sending cards and flowers to the residents
- Using allowance money to buy something for someone in need
- Paying for someone’s meal at a restaurant (with allowance money or your help)
- Offering to do chores or yard work for an elderly or disabled neighbor
- Donating books to a preschool or library
- Cleaning up litter in the park or around the school
- Sending cards and care packages to deployed servicemen and women
- Collecting money for a favorite charity
- Donating food or toys to a local animal shelter
- Participating in a 5K run or walk for charity
- Speaking out against bullying as part of an anti-bullying campaign
- Volunteering to tutor another student
- Making your neighbors gifts for the holidays or on their birthdays
If you encourage kids to show kindness when they are young, they are more likely to grow up to be kind adults. If you want to take the conversation on kindness a step further, check out Edutopia’s Eight Steps Toward a Kinder World. Remember, kindness matters.
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