How To Teach Your Little One To Be Kind.
Kindness. It’s an interesting topic when you think about it. What does being kind mean? Ben asked me this, and I was surprised when it was hard for me to come up with an exact answer, especially an answer that would explain the meaning to a four-year-old. I can give examples of kindness, and I can point out unkind happenings. But really defining it eluded me. I kept coming back to it meaning be nice. That didn’t seem good enough. So, of course, I looked it up in the dictionary. The definition basically included being gentle, nice, and wanting to do good. That was a good start. But I feel strongly that showing kindness is so important. So how do you teach your little one to be kind?
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Why Should We Teach Kindness?
Why does kindness matter? Well quite frankly, take a look at the world around us. Without getting into a rant let’s just say a little kindness goes a long way. Why bother teaching our kids to be kind? It feels like it should be an innate thing. I mean, why be mean to anyone? Kindness is so much more than just being nice though. It is a part of compassion, empathy, looking out for others, politeness, having a servant’s heart, respect for others and more. Kindness is a part of most basic good things in the world. It is a simple little word, but it holds so much meaning.
I think kids are naturally kind. I know Ben is. (Warning, mom brag ahead.) One of my proudest mom moments to date with him came when I was talking with his preschool principal. She said to me, “Ben is just a kind kid.” My mama’s heart sang. I was so happy that my little guy was behaving the way I had hoped. And I also knew I wanted to encourage this behavior. Life makes it really easy to not be kind, and sadly it seems acceptable at times. I know Ben is going to make mistakes and be unkind at times. He’s only four. He needs to test limits and learn that his actions have consequences. But while I know and encourage him to learn, I want the base message to be the same. Kindness matters. Be kind.
How Do You Teach Kindness?
So how do I do this? Why is it the simplest things seem so hard? I wish I could say I had the magic answer to keep kindness in your child’s heart forever. Like all things with parenting, it is an ongoing process. But I have six main areas I am focusing on.
When I don’t know what to say, chances are there is a book out there that does. And in language that my child understands. Somehow messages sink in better when they don’t come from Mom in our house too. Daniel Tiger is an automatic go to. (Is there anything that tiger cub can’t help with?) You don’t have to limit yourself to books and shows focusing solely on kindness. I try to point out kind actions in any show we watch. Little things, like see how that character helped his friend when he fell down. Or notice how those friends spoke encouragingly to each other when they were scared, they didn’t make fun of each other. As annoying as some kid shows can be, a lot of them really do try to emphasize kindness. Children relate to the characters in books and shows, they want to be like them. I try to utilize that by pointing out the positive kindness.
Real Life Examples
Real life is full of examples, good and bad, of kindness. I just look around and see how people around us are behaving. Now, I’m not trying to be the kindness police or anything. My goal isn’t to teach Ben to notice when other people are acting like jerks. But notice the little things. When we see someone hold a door open for someone else I point it out, telling Ben how it is polite and kind. When the teller at the bank gives Ben a lollipop, that was kind of them. Real life examples happen at home too. Ben’s little sisters will bring each other their lovies when one cries. That is kindness right there.
Catch Him Being Kind
I try to catch Ben being kind. When I first thought to do this I was worried there wouldn’t be many times. That isn’t to say I thought Ben would be unkind, but I just didn’t think it would come up very much. You know what? I was pleasantly surprised. He did so many little things I had overlooked before. Giving toys to his sisters, helping set the table without being asked, saying have a nice weekend to his teachers. We don’t need grand gestures to be kind. Pointing out these behaviors really boosted Ben’s confidence and I think it really helped the message sink in. We didn’t do anything big for these actions. Being kind is the expectation, not something we seek a reward for. But the acknowledgment does help reinforce the importance of it.
Role Play/Ask Questions
I have heard that a good way to work through situations with kids is to have their toys or dolls act it out. Role play a bit. I think this is a great idea. The one drawback for us is that Ben doesn’t really get into this sort of play. No biggie, I just ask questions. Pop quiz style. (Or in normal conversation, both ways work.) Sometimes I go over real-life situations. If he acts out towards his sisters, part of the talk after the timeout is about what would the kind response look like. Instead of taking the toy from his sister, what would the kind thing be to do? I also ask him what would the kind thing be to do if he saw a classmate looking sad? What would he do if he saw a child playing alone on the playground? Should he help his teacher clean up? Just toss out some what-ifs and try to lead the conversation towards kindness. I’m not afraid to be blunt either. We have many years of awkward conversations ahead of us, might as well get used to it now.
Point Out When I Am Unkind
I’ll admit it, I’m not always kind. I try to be, but I’m human. I mess up. But I do try to own up to that. When I mutter about another car in traffic, that is unkind. If Ben is in the car I know he notices, so I try to stop myself and say out loud ‘Wow, that was unkind of me. I’m sorry.’ I don’t try to justify it, and if the situation warrants I’ll go into what I should have done. How is this helpful? Well, I think it really helps kids when they see us fall short of expectations for two main reasons. One, it shows them that we are human and we mess up too. Adults aren’t perfect. Kids feel pressure to behave properly, and no one needs the pressure to be perfect all the time. Two, it shows them how we bounce back from our mistakes. We all make wrong choices in life, there is no avoiding that. But what happens after? Do we just let our mistake sit there? Do we keep making the same mistake over and over? Or do we learn, try to make amends if appropriate, and do better in the future? I want my children to know that even if you do something wrong, you can learn from that and do better next time.
This goes along with all the other methods listed above. Just keep talking. It is so easy to feel like what we say to our children goes in one ear and out the other, but they hear us. So keep talking. Even when they are tantruming. Even when they seem like they are just parroting back what you want to hear. (A skill they seem to acquire quite young.) Even when they keep pushing boundaries and you think you are wasting your breath. Keep talking. Consistency is king with kids, right? If you make kindness a daily focus, a family value, and just something worth mentioning, it will sink in that kindness matters.
Kindness seems like a simple thing. Sometimes I worry it comes across as a weakness, that one is kind means that one is a pushover. But no, it is a strength. It is something we all need to focus on. My hope is to foster my son’s naturally kind heart and help it become a core strength in his life.
Here are some great books to help you teach your children about kindness.
Here are some more posts to help your kids:
This post originally appeared in part on Mama’s Organized Chaos in February of 2018.