How to Teach Kids Kindness? Here's Four Strategies to Start Now

black-lightglow-party This week's Mamatoga Kindness Challenge centers around teaching our own children how to be kind. Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, is behind the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind. According to a new study released by the group, about 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

So where does the kindness come in, and why does it matter so much?

The reason behind it is simple, if we want our children to be moral people, we have to raise them that way. Sounds easy, right? And I'd bet most of us think we are already teaching our kids to be kind, or we are relying on their natural kind nature as children to do the job. The bottom line is, making sure we are doing all we can to raise kind children should be a priority, and Weissbourd and his group have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults.

Four strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

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Why? Children learn caring and respect when they are treated that way. When our children feel loved, they also become attached to us. That attachment makes them more receptive to our values and teaching.

How? Loving our children takes many forms, such as tending to their physical and emotional needs, providing a stable and secure family environment, showing affection, respecting their individual personalities, taking a genuine interest in their lives, talking about things that matter, and affirming their efforts and achievements.

Try this:

1. Regular time together. Plan regular, emotionally intimate time with your children. Some parents and caretakers do this through nightly bedtime reading or other shared activity. Some build one-on-one time with their children into their weekly schedules rather than leaving it to chance. You might, for example, spend one Saturday afternoon a month with each of your children doing something you both enjoy.

2. Meaningful conversation. Whenever you have time with your child, take turns asking each other questions that bring out your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Ask questions such as: •“What was the best part of your day? The hardest part?” •“What did you accomplish today that you feel good about?” •“What’s something nice someone did for you today? What’s something nice you did?” •“What’s something you learned today—in school or outside of school?”

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Why? Children learn ethical values and behaviors by watching our actions and the actions of other adults they respect. Children will listen to our teaching when we walk the talk.

How? Pay close attention to whether you are practicing honesty, fairness, and caring yourself and modeling skills like solving conflicts peacefully and managing anger and other difficult emotions effectively. But, nobody is perfect all the time. That is why it’s important for us, in fact, to model for children humility, self-awareness, and honesty by acknowledging and working on our mistakes and flaws. It’s also important for us to recognize what might be getting in the way of our own caring. Are we, for example, exhausted or stressed? Does our child push our buttons in a specific way that makes caring for her or him hard at times? And remember, children will only want to become like us if they trust and respect us. Adults can reflect on whether our children respect us and, if we think they don’t, consider why, and how we might repair the relationship.

Try this: 1. Service. Regularly engage in community service or model other ways of contributing to a community. Even better, consider doing this with your child. 2. Honesty and humility. Talk with your child when you make a mistake that affects them about why you think you made it, apologize for the mistake, and explain how you plan to avoid making the mistake next time. 3. Check-in with others. Reflect and consult with people you trust when you’re finding it hard to be caring or to model important ethical qualities like fairness. 4. Take care of yourself. Whether it’s spending time with a friend, going for a walk, praying or meditating, try to make time to relieve your stress both because it’s important for you and because it will enable you to be more attentive to and caring with others.

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Why? It’s very important that children hear from their parents and caretakers that caring about others is a top priority and that it is just as important as their own happiness. Even though most parents and caretakers say that their children being caring is a top priority, often children aren’t hearing that message.

How? A big part of prioritizing caring is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, doing the right thing even when it is hard, standing up for important principles of fairness and justice, and insisting that they’re respectful, even if it makes them unhappy and even if their peers or others aren’t behaving that way.

Try this 1. A clear message. Consider the daily messages you send to children about the importance of caring. For example, instead of saying to children “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” you might say “The most important thing is that you’re kind and that you’re happy.” 2. Prioritize caring when you talk with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers and coaches whether your children are good community members in addition to asking about their academic skills, grades, or performance. 3. Encourage kids to “work it out.” Before letting your child quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend, and encourage them to work out problems.

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Why? Almost all children empathize with and care about a small circle of families and friends. Our challenge is help children learn to have empathy and care about someone outside that circle, such as a new child in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.

How? It is important that children learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering the range of people they interact with every day. Children also need to consider how their decisions impact a community. Breaking a school rule, for example, can make it easier for others to break rules. Especially in our more global world, it’s important, too, for children to develop concern for people who live in other cultures and communities.

Try this: 1. Children facing challenges. Encourage children to consider the perspectives and feelings of those who may be vulnerable, such as a new child at school or a child experiencing some family trouble. Give children some simple ideas for taking action, like comforting a classmate who was teased or reaching out to a new student. 2. Zooming out. Use newspaper or TV stories to start conversations with children about other people’s hardships and challenges, or simply the different experiences of children in another country or community. 3. Listening. Emphasize with your child the importance of really listening to others, especially those people who may seem unfamiliar and who may be harder to immediately understand.

To read all of the strategies for teaching children to be kind, visit the Making Caring Common Project here.

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