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4 Ways to Teach Your Kids Kindness

As the famous quote goes, "In a world where you can be anything, BE kind" ...but is it possible to TEACH kind?

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Photo by Ariel Dilworth
Photo by Ariel Dilworth

As a mom of littles ones, I think about my kiddos’ future all of the time. Who will they be? What will they be like?

As a former elementary school teacher, I’ve conferenced with countless parents who expressed desires for their kids to be smart, athletic, social, gifted, talented, etc.… and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all want our littles to be the best versions of themselves.

But if we’re being completely honest here, you wanna know what I want most? I want my kids to be kind.

That’s it.

I want them to be the ones who ask the lonely kid to play, to be the ones who readily share their lunch with the classmate who’s forgotten his.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. If you’re a mama on the same mission, check out the 4 simple things I do to teach my own kiddos kindness.

1. Talk about kindness

First, it’s important to define what kindness actually means. “Be Kind” is a phrase that kids hear a lot, but it’s rarely defined. There are a handful of ways you can define kindness for little ones, but I’ve found that a very simplified definition works best, especially for toddlers: Kindness makes people happy. It’s a great jumping-off point for a more in-depth conversation.

Talking about kindness may seem obvious, but as parents, we often make statements to our kids without ever giving a chance for meaningful reflection. Like just yesterday, when my four-year-old refused to let his little sister play with him (an almost daily occurrence btw)—my first reaction was to say “Hey, stop, that’s not kind, please let her play”, and just leave it at that.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he understood why it wasn’t kind. Maybe it was the way he said it, maybe he yelled or took a toy out of her hands.  By stretching the conversation just a little bit further, talking specifics, and asking an open-ended question, we plant the seed for recognizing right vs. wrong, kind vs. hurtful.  

I might say this to him instead, “The way you yelled at your sister and told her you wouldn’t play with her made her sad, it wasn’t kind. What can you do to show her kindness?” Specifics plus a thoughtful question will gently push your kiddo reflect.

There are so many opportunities to inject kindness into everyday conversations with our littles, too. Not sure where to start? Questions like the following can help get a good discussion rolling!

  • What does kindness look like?
  • Have you ever been unkind to someone? How did you make it better?
  • What was one kind thing you did today?
  • Has someone ever been unkind to you? How did it make you feel?

2. Read about kindness

Mamas, we’ve been told since our babes were in utero, that reading is one of the most beneficial activities that we can do with them. But when it comes to abstract concepts like empathy and point-of-view, do little kids have the capacity to actually understand?

Yes and no. Stay with me on this one– Empathy is instinctual, we’re naturally drawn to feel for others. But until kids actually develop feelings from experiencing certain situations (a.k.a life), it’s difficult to exercise it. That’s where books come in!

Bookroo: The Children’s Book Experts explain, “One of the many wonderful things about books is that they let you see a story through someone else’s eyes. You get to step into other people’s shoes and understand their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.” Makes sense, right?! Books are a great substitute for younger kiddos who haven’t had the opportunity for many “life experiences” yet.

Check out these incredible books about kindness— They’re especially great picks for the younger kiddos (ages 3-6):

3. Show kindness

“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.” –Unknown

You’re being watched. You’re being watched even when you don’t know you’re being watched. No, this isn’t an episode of You… this is #momlife. Our littles are like super cute sponges, always soaking up their surroundings. This has, by far, been the biggest factor for my own personal growth.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not bragging on myself. My kids are my catalyst. I want to be better and do better because I know I always have an audience of two. I make it my mission to go out of my way to make someone else’s day better, especially when there are little eyes watching.

These actions don’t have to be big, or take a lot of time or money. They can be as simple as sending a smile to a person we walk past, holding the door for someone, offering to return someone’s shopping cart, buying water or a snack for the homeless, allowing someone to go ahead of us in the checkout line, etc.

The smallest actions really do make the biggest impact. I swear, I will never forget the elderly man who waited for me to finish loading my groceries, and then offered to return my cart because he saw me struggling to get my kids in the car. Talk about making a mama’s day.

4. Notice kindness

Oh, and that man who returned my cart? I talked about how kind he was the whole way home, “That was SO nice of him, wasn’t it?! He saw I was having a hard time and went out of his way to help us. That made my day!” I made such a big deal out of this small act, that my 4-year-old ran to tell my husband about our “great day” as soon as he got home. Noticing kindness is just as important as showing it.

Whenever someone does something kind, I make it a priority to point it out to my kids. Noticing it positively reinforces the behavior, while allowing a conversation about kindness to naturally unfold. My son has asked me questions like, “Why did she do that?”  and “Why was that nice?

At first, his questions completely caught me off guard. I think we take for granted our own social-emotional intelligence, and assume that our kids operate in the same way. But just like any other facet of learning, this type of intelligence needs to be taught. Your little’s emotional awareness and understanding is something that’s completely coachable!

More than ever, we need kindness to be at the forefront. As the inspirational Kevin Heath puts it, “The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave affecting the lives of many”.

Now, don’t get me wrong— this doesn’t mean you’re going to turn your toddler into a tiny Mother Theresa overnight. In fact, it’s biologically impossible— because, despite our best efforts, toddlers’ brains are wired to be on emotional overdrive.

So, just remember… you’re planting seeds, not harvesting, and that’s where kindness grows from, mama.

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