As a parent, there are many values and morals to try to teach a child, at any age, but inspiring kindness in kids can be a challenge. Thoughtfulness often comes secondary, so teaching thoughtfulness is one of the best gifts you can give. Here are some ways to help spread kindness.
The Sooner, The Better
It’s never too early to start talking about kindness with your kids. Acting with kindness and consideration for others instead of out of self-interest is a behavior that takes time and good habits to develop. Luckily, empathy is hardwired in us from birth and is here to help. Commonly known as the mirror-neuron system, we intuitively feel what other people feel. It’s the reason your two-year-old will burst into tears when they see another toddler fall at the playground. This is one of the earlier opportunities to explain that experience and feeling to them. As the child’s brain develops, they can better separate you from I and that is when compassion starts to form.
When kids are 3 to 5 years old, it is a good time to start having discussions about kindness. “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.” and “What can we do today that will be fun for all of us” are good ways to get started. Giving some examples to utilize empathy can also help them put themselves in the shoes of someone else. More importantly for thoughtfulness, encourage thinking about others outside of interactions. As an example, ask your five-year-old, “Your sister is going to be tired after a whole day at school. Should we make her a special snack?”. Ask your five-year-old to think what their sister might want as a snack instead of their own favorite snack. This really ties into the first tip.
Getting your children to think about others can sometimes be as simple as asking a question out loud to get an understanding of “What would that feel like?”. The question not only inspires your kid to be thoughtful but asking them regularly also helps build it into a habit. One way to practice this is with pretend play toys. You could ask your child, “Your doll fell down and bumped her knee! What do you think we should do for her?” For older children, you can ask them to imagine more complicated, real-life scenarios. Without making judgments, point out differences to your kids and allow them to come up with their own conclusions. Ask them what it would feel like to be a cat stuck in a tree or how difficult it must be to get on the bus in a wheelchair. Over time, these questions will start to become more automatic and a part of their internal normal response to it.
Keep Mimicking In Mind
When it comes to raising kids, sometimes it is easy to forget you are their role model at all times. While we can’t always control their behavior, kids are eager to copy us. Showing kindness to others in our daily lives is how we lead by example. Your kids will imitate you from gestures like hugging someone who is crying to subtle interactions such as putting your phone down to make eye contact and say thank you. The best way to get the most impact from this, ask for them to help when doing something kind for someone else. Picking up groceries for a sick family member or volunteering somewhere? Ask them to come along and help. Kids will often invite you to play with their lego sets or to play with dolls; return the kindness by asking them to help cook dinner or help with the dishes.
Help Those In Need
Kids should understand that a certain amount of help is requested and required “just because” they are members of the family and it is the right thing to do. Assigning chores goes beyond sharing the workload. It teaches responsibility for the family as a whole. Even when leaving a friend’s house, ask them to help pick up before hopping in the car to go home. Even just a few items will help teach them to think about others and to be kind to their hosts. Another great way to do this is to ask for your child to work together and help their sibling with tasks around the house; for example, picking up sticks in the yard or clearing off the table.
Invite Them To Do Something For Others
Kids get a special kind of joy when it is their birthday so asking for their help to think about someone else’s birthday is a special moment. Invite your kids to shop for other kids’ birthday gifts. Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy is the best place to take your kids shopping for others because, with the huge variety of toys and the kid-friendly atmosphere, you can find the perfect gift for any child. While you shop, talk about the person and share things you love about them. Now they will pick something out that their friend will love and are excited for them to open it.
Another way to invite your kids to be kind to others is by having them create their own thank you or holiday cards. Most people love getting hand-made cards from kids whether it is to say thank you, happy birthday, or happy mother’s day. If you are buying a card, ask them to sign it and share a personal message. Saying thank you or other nice things is the key to kindness.
Read Stories With Lessons
Most kids can’t get enough of their favorite book or bedtime story. Help instill the right morals in your children by using stories with great role models or messages about kindness. Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy has a children's book corner with several books that teach kindness and thoughtfulness. Kindness Big Words For Little People, I Dig Kindness, and ABCs of Kindness are just a few books we carry that speak to kindness. Even if kindness isn’t listed in the title of the book, how do the main characters act? What is the moral of the story? Some books for just fun are always good, but being mindful of some that display thoughtfulness and kindness are good too.
Being kind and thoughtful are life-long habits that will enrich and reward your children throughout their life. Helping them notice how it feels to be kind and the effects of kindness is just the start. By encouraging kindness in their interactions with others and by being a role model for the kindness, you can teach your kids how to be their best selves.