How To Foster Kindness in Children of All Ages
Over the past 30 years of working with children and their families, I have often heard parents ask the question: “What can I do to make my child be more kind?”
First off, understand this takes practice—- and gentle and patient guidance.
Like many soft skills, kindness is a quality that is learned through practice, repetition and modeling. Luckily, there are many things that we can do as parents to encourage our children to be kinder and gentler.
Empathy: the ability to understand another person’s feelings- also develops over time. At two years old, a child may comfort a crying sibling or playmate by offering their pacifier or blanket———this is an oh so sweet gesture of kindness. While your two year old may not be able to understand why the other child is crying, she is mirroring her own experience of how she has been comforted when she is upset.
By age 4, children can better understand when they have hurt someone, and sometimes will give an unsolicited apology or display another action of remorse.
By ages 5-6, kids can often share more easily and take turns with a specific toy or game. At this age, often the time of entering Kindergarten, they can also discuss what it means to be ‘kind’.
If you would like to encourage kindness in your children, avoid fostering competition in your family. Instead of saying, “Let’s see who can clean up the fastest,” try saying, “Let’s all work together to get this cleaned up so we can go outside and play.” Praise your children for their group effort. By doing so, you are teaching your child that their siblings are not rivals but that the family functions best as a unit. This also gives younger siblings an equal chance in participating at their age level and encourages older siblings to help out younger ones.
Another important strategy is to acknowledge kindness when it appears. Be sure to comment to your child when you notice someone doing something nice. Also, don’t ever pass up a chance to praise your child for doing an act of kindness, no matter how small.
Encourage your child to watch people’s facial expressions. Much of our emotions is shown in our facial expressions. When your child has upset someone, direct them to look at the person’s face and ask them “How do you think______ is feeling right now?” Let them make this connection and wait for them to do something in kindness.