We’ve all told our kiddos to “play nice” or “be kind to your sister.” And most of us would agree that we feel it is important to raise kind children. But is kindness something you can really teach?
This article from the Today Show says yes, but most of that teaching comes from example.
“Kindness isn’t taught, it is learned. In order to be kind, you have to experience it at home,” says Mary Gordon, founder and president of Roots of Empathy. Here are four ways that you can start to teach your kids.
1. Walk the walk
Children understand kindness through their everyday interactions with their parents. “The way you speak to someone when they come to the door or respond to your child even when tired,” Gordon explains, “are how your child learns to model behavior and treat other people.”
2. Talk the talk – give them kind language.
She defines kindness as the ability to take another person’s perspective and then tailor your words and actions accordingly. For older kids, Masterson recommends asking explicit questions about unkind behavior or language: how do you think that makes another person feel? What is it like to be in their shoes?
3. Reward big acts of kindness, but don’t go overboard.
Weissbourd, who runs the Making Caring Common project, advises parents to reward “uncommon acts of kindness” — like if a child starts a lemonade stand for a good cause or goes out of their way to help someone. However, Weissbourd says we shouldn’t praise children for everyday helpfulness like taking out the trash or playing with a younger sibling. “That everyday kindness should be expected,” he said. “That’s how it becomes part of who we are, part of our identity.”
4. Force them out of their comfort zone to teach empathy.
Young adults should interact with people from different backgrounds, to learn how to place themselves in someone else’s shoes — whether that means taking a summer job that gets them out of their comfort zone or living in a different culture.