5 Tips to Help Kids Develop The Kindness Advantage
A Guest Post from Amanda Salzhauer & Dr. Dale Atkins
Do you ever remember hearing a friend or relative complain that their kids are too kind?
No, neither do we.
Kindness is one of those qualities that we can never have enough of.
There are so many reasons that kindness is important. At its essence, kindness allows us to develop awareness of and sensitivity to others. Having concern for others and being able to show that concern through our thoughts and actions helps us feel connected to the people and world around us.
When we use the word kindness, we are referring to several, specific behaviors. Let’s think of them as the “kindness-ecities”:
Show Compassion and Concern for Others
These behaviors are ones that everyone, kids included, can practice and then, they can become habits.
Research shows that from a very young age, kids are actually wired to be kind. As parents, we can nurture that inclination in our kids.
Regardless of where your kids fall on the kindness spectrum, the five tips below will increase kindness in their everyday lives…and in yours too!
1. Be a kindness role model. Our kids are soaking in everything we do and say. Make sure your child catches you being kind. You might offer to help someone struggling to hold packages in line at the post office, call or send a card to a relative who is sick, or any number of other things. If you volunteer your time in a more formal way, make sure your child knows what you do and why it is important to you. Talk about kindness as an important value in your family.
2. Use story or TV time to teach kindness. Reading a book or watching a TV show with your child provides a great framework for talking about kindness. Help your child think about what motivates a character by asking, “What were they thinking or how were they feeling when they said or did that?” Since we all want to teach our kids the consequences of their actions, a good follow up question could be, “How do you think that made the other person (or animal, if relevant) feel?” And of course, if one of the characters in the book or show misses an opportunity to be kind ask, “Why do you think they chose not to do anything?” Finally, help your child connect what they are hearing or seeing with their own life. Asking, “What would you have done in that situation?” is a great way to do that.
3. Make a kindness chart. Research shows that people who keep track of their own acts of kindness toward others are more likely to be grateful, happier, and engage in more acts of kindness. Make a chart with your child that can hang on the refrigerator (or any place where you and your child will see it frequently). Have your child count and record each act of kindness she does throughout the day. Take a broad view of kindness–it might be directed toward an animal, the environment, family member, or friend. Talk with your child about how she felt when she was kind and, if that kindness was towards another person, how she thinks that person felt.
4. Listen with kindness. Listening carefully is a great way to show kindness to another person. Help your child hone this skill by having him interview someone like a new friend, a relative they may not see often, or you! Brainstorm a list of questions together before the interview. Basic questions like “What is your favorite food? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?” are fine. The point is for your child to have practice listening to someone else as a way to learn about him.
5. Make kindness a family activity. Volunteering can be a great activity for “family time”. As new activities begin in the fall, think about scheduling formal volunteer opportunities. Talk to your kids about starting the tradition of volunteering as a family. Some families participate in a food drive every year during a particular holiday time like Thanksgiving or Yom Kippur. Others commit to a particular walk-a-thon or park clean up each year. Let your kids be part of the planning process by helping choose an activity and/or a population to support. With younger children, you can provide a list of several choices and let them pick. Older children can help you research different volunteer opportunities in your community. Families often describe feeling closer, more like a team, and fulfilled when they share a volunteer experience together.
By starting at home, we can give our kids the foundation for kindness habits that will last a lifetime. Who knows? One day you might even complain that your kids are too kind.
About the Authors
Amanda R. Salzhauer, MSW has spent many years as a social worker in clinics and private practice, which has given her a deep understanding of children, family, and community dynamics. In addition to her field experience cultivating one-on-one relationships, she has been a force for progress through her participation as a board member of several leading nonprofit organizations.
The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children: At a time when we experience so much rude behavior from children and adults, and targets of bullying are getting younger and younger, we need to ask ourselves how do we want to be treated? And how are we going to treat others? Now more than ever, kindness is paramount. The Kindness Advantage is a practical and concrete guide designed to be read by parents and grandparents with children as young as four. Available on Amazon