Kindness, compassion, and empathy are all valuable character traits for children to learn.
One of the most important ways to raise children who are kind is to teach them how to be kind to themselves, and to understand and manage their emotions. Children learn how to navigate the world and understand their feelings from their parents. According to Denese Shervington, M.D., M.P.H., the CEO of the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies:
“Everything about helping a child to be the best version of themselves, to be able to understand life, understand what’s happening, is dependent on the kindness and love of parents.”
There are several characteristics that parents can help teach their kids, to help them grow up to be kinder, more compassionate adults. These include:
- Self-awareness: this ability helps kids understand and express their emotions. Parents can help kids be more self-aware by helping them understand why they feel the way they do by asking when their feeling started and what happened prior to the feeling
- Social awareness: this is the capacity to show, and feel, empathy. Kids can learn this through discussing what they could do or say for others who are feeling upset
- Relationship skills: these include listening, collaboration, and communication. Parents can help increase these in kids by showing children that their feelings matter. At bedtime, parents can ask their children what made them happy or sad during that day, and listen closely to what children share.
- Self-management: when kids have self-management skills, they are better able to cope with stress. Parents can help by providing kids with a specific space they can go to calm down, like a Peace Corner in their room that includes calming books or music
Kids can start learning about kindness and empathy, even when they may be too young to start practicing it just yet. According to psychiatrist Kelli Harding, M.D., empathy is hardwired in people from the time they are born through the mirror-neuron system. This allows us to feel what other people feel, intuitively. Empathy helps kids understand how others are feeling; kindness and compassion help kids act on that understanding. Parents can help children consider how others are feeling by using inclusive language, such as “us” and “we.” For example, parents can ask their kids questions like “what activity could we do this weekend that will be fun for all of us?”
Between the ages of three and five years old is a good time to start talking to kids about kindness. Parents can start with explaining the Golden Rule – treating others the way they would like to be treated. One of the best ways to help kids learn kindness and compassion is to help them imagine how other people may feel. With younger children, parents can help them practice empathy during playtime; for older kids, parents can give examples of how it might feel to be in different situations, like having to use a wheelchair, or having to sleep outside when it’s cold. Eventually, thinking and responding with empathy becomes automatic, and kids behave with kindness and compassion to those around them without even having to think about it.
How can parents encourage kindness and empathy?
There are several ways that parents can model kindness and point it out to help their children become kind people:
- Believe in their child’s capability for kindness: assume that your child is concerned about the needs of others, and that they want to help. Children tend to live up to expectations of kindness from their parents, so if they are expected to be kind, it is likely that they will be
- Be a good role model: what parents say (and do) can have a significant impact on their children. Parents can display examples of kindness, such as comforting a friend, or running errands for a neighbor in need. Additionally, parents can help their children learn compassion and kindness by being kind and patient with them
- Treat kids with respect, and model respectful behavior: parents can treat kids with respect in several ways, from giving kids choices about what they’d like to wear that day, to letting them know that it’s almost bedtime or time to leave the playground or a friend’s house. Parents can also model respect for each other; if parents are arguing, they can let kids know that it’s possible to not always agree, but that it is still important to listen to and respect each other
- Point out examples of behavior that may be unkind: if parents experience rudeness from someone, they can point it out to their child and explain that maybe that person was having a bad day, and ask their child’s thoughts on what could have prompted unkind behavior. This teaches kids that even if someone is not nice to them, they can still show kindness in response
- Acknowledge kind behavior from others: parents can also let their children know when they notice someone being kind to them, or to someone else, such as seeing someone let another person ahead of them inline. Additionally, parents can praise their children if they see them displaying kindness to someone else
- Be aware of what children see in the media: children are influenced by books and movies, and may imitate kind actions they see characters displaying. Parents can encourage reading books about compassion and empathy, and can talk with their kids about what they see on TV or in movies
- Help children understand how people are different: younger children notice differences in people, and may say things that are not socially appropriate. When this happens, parents can ask children why they said that, and correct the child’s misunderstanding by explaining how people are all different
- Explain that words can be hurtful: if a child calls someone else a hurtful name, parents can point out how this can hurt the other person. Parents can encourage their children to apologize when the child hurts someone else, and talk with children about how they can communicate their feelings without hurting others
Practical ways that parents can model kindness to children
There are lots of different ways that parents can help their kids practice kindness, both among their own family members and members of their larger community. Some examples include:
- Helping others as a family: when a family member or friend gets sick or needs help, adults may drop off a meal or send flowers. When someone they know needs help, parents can ask their children how they would like to help; maybe they can pick out flowers to send, or help with preparing food to bring to someone in need, and going along to deliver a meal. Afterward, parents can ask kids how helping someone made them feel, and also to think of a time that someone helped them, and remember how that felt.
- Help kids think about how they can share with others: parents can teach their children to appreciate what they have, and think about how they can share those things with others. Examples could be donating toys or books, or sharing extra food with elderly neighbors.
There are also many ways to help kids practice kindness at home; in fact, this is where kids can begin learning how to be kind and compassionate people. Whether kindness takes the form of helping out around the house, spending time with their siblings, or taking care of pets, there are many ways that parents can help kids learn kindness in their own home:
- Give kids chores: this helps kids understand that helping out is the right thing to do, and it is part of being a member of a family. Parents can keep chore charts to help kids track their chores, and receive small rewards for pitching in
- Promote teamwork: parents can teach kids to work as part of a team, whether it’s helping their sibling clean up toys, or helping to set the table for dinner. Teaching teamwork helps kids learn how to pitch in and help others when they need it
- Help kids look for good news: with so many challenging things going on in the world, it can sometimes be difficult to see the good. Parents can point out good things that happen, as well as good people who are helping those around them. This can help kids feel more positive about the world, and can teach them ways that they can help out too
Teaching kindness away from home
Kindness also extends to a child’s community, and can include taking care of the environment. Parents can teach their kids to respect the earth by teaching them not to litter, and picking up trash if they see it on the ground. Additionally, parents can recycle at home and can help their children collect empty cans and bring them to recycling centers. Some centers pay for cans, so kids can take any money they make and donate it to charity.
Kindness, compassion, and empathy are all valuable character traits for children to learn. These are also traits that help contribute to being a good neighbor. This year is a bit different from the traditional Thanksgiving where we can all get together but we at Murray & Co. Real Estate hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving! If you know of anyone looking to make a move, please introduce us. We will always be more than happy to help!
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