Even children themselves understand the value of kindness in making the world a better place as revealed in a recent Highlights State of the Kid™ survey, where 2,000 kids (ages 6 to 12) were asked what they would change if they could change one thing in the world. Twenty-four percent of the kids said they would increase kindness, respect, and honesty.
So, if both parents and children want more kindness in their lives, how can parents ensure that kindness remains front and center in daily life? How can we help our kids keep positive and hopeful about the future? “We believe that children are hardwired for kindness and empathy,” says Christine French Cully, editor in chief of Highlights.
“How many times have you seen a baby offer you his bottle or his blanket? Kids are born with the seeds of empathy and kindness. But if we don’t water these seeds as children grow, their inborn humanity will fade away,” shares Cully. We all know that kids are fantastic observers and mimics. They learn what they live and what they see lived around them.
Parents are the first model children have of discovering what kindness looks like and how compassion is the starting point for kind deeds. On the other hand, when parents shame or ridicule others, children will think that what is being said is permissible and will learn habits that undermine kind words and actions.
The kindness habit flourishes in a home that respects and values others.
“It is natural for children to model the behavior they see around them,” says Nationwide Children’s Hospital, one of U.S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals” and the largest pediatric health care and research network in America with more than 1 million patient visits per year. “Parents can teach kindness just as they would any other skill, by being kind themselves. Take opportunities to lead by example and have open and honest conversations to help kids understand feelings and moods.”
And it starts with parents who exhibit kind behavior. How is this done? I usually tell parents that instead of being snippy, refuse to be reactive. Take a deep breath and make it about the other person.
If you are looking for parenting tips that can help you establish a kinder lifestyle at home, experts quoted in the Highlights State of the Kid survey suggest the following:
1. Use everyday moments to teach a kindness lesson.
For instance, in addition to asking your kids about their day when they come home from school or at dinner, ask them if they did something kind today. Or did someone do something kind for them?
2. Acknowledge that it’s not always easy to be kind.
Sometimes issues raise feelings in us that aren’t pleasant. But it’s important to think about the other person’s perspective and experiences and then, together, come up with strategies on the best ways to help, whether it’s joining a group that does service work around that issue, such as disaster relief, or writing a letter to an elected official to advocate on behalf of that issue.
3. Whenever possible, point out people in the world—your neighborhood, your community, your school—who are doing good deeds.
Save news stories about heroes who’ve gone out of their way to help others in time of need and share them with your kids.
4. Perform random acts of kindness.
From the simple act of holding a door for someone to participating in food or clothing drives to sending a note or calling someone just to see how she is doing, show your kids that small acts can make a big difference that they can become change agents one step at a time.
I will be bold and add two further points to the above suggestions:
5. Plan and enact purposeful acts of kindness. My belief is that random acts of kindness are innate within us. When we see a need, our compassionate side takes over and we feel the urge to respond. Purposeful acts, on the other hand, are a decision, a habit, a practice, and something you must decide to do beforehand. Show your kids that kindness is something they can put on like they would a favorite T-shirt. Decisions made day after day turn into habits. And habits can shape our character.
6. Start with your block. Don’t overcomplicate it. Your kids can learn kindness close to home. When parents ask me where to start, I tell them to simply find a person within a two-mile radius who could use a kindness boost. You will be doing two things: Creating a safer community through your kind deeds, and showing your children that kindness starts wherever they see the need.
Making people feel accepted and safe is the reward of kind deeds. And showing children the connection between their choices to be kind and the resulting effects will help them see the rewards in others’ lives and in their own.