How many times have you heard someone say that "parenting is easy"? Probably never, right? Parenting is a hard job and doesn't come with a set of instructions for us to follow. The responsibilities of parenting can be overwhelming, to say the least. There are a million and one things you will be responsible for teaching your child before they reach adulthood. From taking their first steps to obtaining their first job, as a parent you will be their first and, in many cases, best teacher. And while we all wish for our children to grow to be successful and independent adults, we also hope that they grow up to be good people, showing kindness to their family, friends, neighbors and even strangers. After all, couldn't we use a little more kindness and compassion in this world?
So, what's a parent to do? Read on to find about five key ways to encourage kindness in children.
Set a good example: Remember how we said, you are your child's best teacher? Well, this is an area where your child will learn from the example that you set. How you treat yourself, your child, family and friends and strangers will be the greatest lesson on kindness (or hate) that your child will have. We are all human and get frustrated and mad just like anyone else, but as parents we have an opportunity to set a good example in those moments. Yelling when a driver cuts you off in traffic, speaking rudely to a server at a restaurant or gossiping are all moments of unkindness to yourself and others. Remind yourself to model kindness and compassion in your own everyday interactions. You may think your children aren't paying attention to those small moments, but they are absorbing more than you think.
Start early: By age 2, children can generally show affection by giving hugs or saying things like "I love you" or by sharing their favorite toy. By age 4, children can understand the difference between the concept of being "nice" and being "mean" and often begin to model behaviors of the adults around them during pretend play. So in other words, don't wait to begin teaching kindness and compassion.
Set expectations: Set high standards for your children when it comes to kindness. Let them know what is expected of them from an early age. Make them aware that disrespectful, rude or bullying behavior is not permitted. Encourage them to invite the bullied classmate to sit with them at lunch or to help another classmate who's on crutches with their books. Set clear consequences for when expectations are not followed.
Teach gratitude: The best way to do this is through charity work and donating. What does this have to do with kindness and compassion? Tons! For starters, when children are exposed to people from all walks of life, specifically those that are less fortunate, they begin to feel (and show) gratitude for what they have. We often try to shield our children from those who are less fortunate, but it's important that they understand that not everyone has the same opportunities that they have. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how often kids are moved to want to help, which leads to kindness and compassion. Try organizing a food or clothing drive or have your child make items to sell, and donate the proceeds.
Worthy words: Words can be extremely powerful. They can make us laugh, cry, feel happiness, or even feel despair. Words can build someone up or break someone down. And as quickly as they fall from our lips, they can damage relationships just as quickly. It is important to teach your children to be careful with their words. Teach your children to think about what they say before they say it. Is it kind? Is it truthful? Is it gossip?
Acts of kindness: From the time we are just infants, we are capable of understanding that our words and actions can make other people smile or feel better about themselves. Engage in random acts of kindness WITH your children. Carrying out random acts of kindness is a great way to show them about being kind without expecting anything in return. The more your children witness these acts of kindness, the more it will normalize these patterns and kindness will become second nature to them.
If every person in the world took just five minutes to perform one kind act for another person, it wouldn't solve all the world's problems. But one thing's for sure, we would certainly be one small step closer to achieving world peace. Teaching future generations about kindness and compassion isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity!
Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.