Did you know that numerous studies find that people who show compassion and empathy have better relationships with family and friends? They grow up to be happier, healthier and more successful in life.
So how can we help our children learn kindness?
- Be a good role model.
Our children are watching and learning from the way we act in the world; they learn from our example. The way we interact in the world. The way we talk to people, about people and the language we use.
How do you talk to your children? your partner? your family members?
Did you know that a child who is not shown empathy grows up unable to show it to others? When we show empathy to our own children they learn to show it to others.
It starts with us.
We need to lead by example, show our children what kindness is, how it feels and what to do.
For little children, we need to point out what ‘kind’ is.
Tell them when they share the last cookie with their friend how kind that was, point out if the driver in front of you let you out of the traffic or if the shop assistant helped you find something at the supermarket.
- Do not reward kindness
We want our child to feel and know that the act of kindness is a reward in itself.
Make sure you descriptively praise your child when they show kindness, acknowledge it and comment on it. But don’t give a sticker or external reward when your child is kind.
“You shared your last cookie with Sarah, look how happy you made her, how kind.”
“You wanted to play with the toy car and you gave it to your friend, you made him so happy.”
Studies show that children who were praised by getting a sticker on a chart or an external reward of some form, ended up not showing kindness at later times. They grew up thinking that showing kindness as not ‘good enough’ on its own merit.
When we use external rewards, it bypasses our natural intrinsic motivation to do something kind for others.
- Highlight the importance of kindness
Make sure your children understand the importance of kindness and empathy. We need to teach our children to think of others and how their actions affect others.
I teach my children that they don’t have to like everyone but they must be kind to everyone. It is important that they know how to stand up for others and not follow the pack.
That they can show compassion and empathy to others, even if they disagree or wouldn’t chose to be friends with someone.
We need to beware of what our children do and say to be able to tackle the subtle and overt meanness in our society.
- Teach kindness
Practice being kind and show your child what that means.
When my children were growing up we would have a ‘Value of the week.’ We would choose a value and practice it as a family.
So, for kindness week we would point out when we saw others in the family being kind. Helping with dinner, sharing with others, getting someone a glass of water, smiling at someone, paying someone a compliment. It was all noticed.
Get inventive and work together as a family.
- Remember your Ps and Qs
It is important to show good manners, not only because it makes us look good, but it shows appreciation for the other person. It is important to teach our children the real reason to show gratitude and acknowledgement.
There is a strong link to gratitude and happiness, without being grateful we cannot be truly happy. We all want our children to grow up to be happy and thoughtful adults, it does start with what we are teaching them when they are young.