The face of kindness is something that’s easily recognized when we see it in action, but children learn by doing and having a role. The positive effect of kindness reinforces more kindness, and over time, children discover that when you’re kind, people want to play with you, invite you to come over and be your friend.
Social reward is a powerful motivator, but the core value underlying kindness is how good it feels to be nice without expecting anything in return.
Bob Burg, co-author of The Go-Giver, shared: “If I were to suggest something I’ve noticed that instills kindness, just from being raised by two wonderful parents, it’s ‘Example, example, example.’ I constantly saw my parents helping others in any way they could, genuinely caring about others, and doing their best to assist them. To me that was just a part of my learned belief system. I never knew anything else.”
Bob adds, “A parent can instill in their children the desire to give by simply being a person who gives. To give because it’s the right thing to do. To give because they truly have a heart for helping others.” As he points out, “It’s not about giving back; in fact, give first! Really it’s about the generous spirit of giving of oneself for no other reason than because it’s congruent with one’s values.”
There are many things you can do to increase your child’s kindness factor:
Be a kinder-finder
Catch your child in the act of doing something nice and say, “Your actions are so kind today. Thank you for sharing your treat with your little sister. I know she really appreciated that.”
When you notice even a little instance of a child using a kind voice, being thoughtful or doing something nice for others, acknowledge it out loud. Don’t go too overboard with rewards since you don’t want your child to be motivated solely by the praise. But when your child does something especially noteworthy and demonstrates patience or does a wonderful deed, it’s a special opportunity to notice with a high five or hug.
Build the skill
Encourage your child to use their kindness powers like a superhero. Teach your kids how to ask someone to play or be their friend. Sounds simple, but it works. While superheroes save the day, encourage your child to name their kindness alter ego (such as Princess Good Heart or Captain Kinder Kid), and every time they do something super-kind, you can say, “Here comes my super-kinder-hero.” Praise kindness in creative ways.
Use your kinder voice
One of the first characteristics of kindness to share with kids and have them consider is their tone of voice. Encourage a kind tone often. When a child uses one, say “thank you” and acknowledge it: “I love how your voice sounded so kind when you asked for an extra helping.”
When you answer the telephone or ask the kids to come to dinner, listen to the tone of your own voice. A kinder voice goes a long way!
Raise a helper
When children see themselves as needed and helping at home, it builds their self-esteem but also stresses the importance of giving of oneself. Children who are raised doing age-appropriate and meaningful chores gain a sense of contributing to their family and are more likely to offer to help when at school and play.
Children are great at helping pick up their toys and putting away their clothes when clean, so brainstorm a list of ways your kids would like to pitch in. Helping hands are kind hands and a special family value.
Point out good first impressions
Kind manners and a great attitude make a wonderful impression. To reinforce your child’s actions, give them your attention. Comment, “Wow, did you see your teacher’s face when you asked how her day was? That was so thoughtful of you!”
Children gain from understanding what it means to make a first impression. Over time, they’ll see how being kind is an opportunity to make new friends.
Kids love to act things out, so put on the Nice to Be Nice show! My husband, Ed, built a puppet stage, which I decorated for our grandchildren, and we filled a basket with puppets we’d find along our travels or when visiting toy stores.
One of the first puppet shows four-year-old Dani put on was about a puppet who didn’t get along with the others. She pretended to be the teacher and encouraged the puppets to play with each other nicely. One was even put in time-out for not talking kindly to the others.
Use kinder reminders
Sometimes when a child needs a little encouragement, instead of offering it out loud, you might use a signal like a thumbs-up or two-thumbs-up or a special word to remind them to be kind. If you add words to your signal, saying “thumbs-up,” it means “Put your kindness hat on” or “Way to go!” It surely carries more weight than the overused phrase “Be nice!”
The key is to make these kinder reminders meaningful and fun and add your very special language. The same goes for good manners, which are kind ways of responding to others.
Joey Reiman, author of Thumbs Up!, shared the power of thumbs-up and thinking positive: “The way to be successful in a complex world is with simple affirmations. Giving a thumbs-up is the quickest way to hope. The gesture transmits positivity.”
He believes: “Thumbs-up people are positive people. When you give a child a thumbs-up, you give her affirmation. A thumbs-up carries with it a history of ‘good to go,’ from Roman emperors, to the astronauts, to world leaders, to moms and dads. Giving a child a thumbs-up tells him he is good to grow up. He is now a messenger who will deliver the message he has just received, creating more love in the world.”
Create family volunteering projects
When each of my children was around four years old, I asked them to choose something that helped other children. My son elected to collect toys for children who didn’t have any during the holidays. With the support of his school and the entire community, over 20,000 toys were collected, and the mayor even proclaimed Justin’s Miracle Makers Project a special day in Atlanta, Georgia.
The recognition shed light on how many underserved children would go without toys that year and how desperately they were needed for the holidays, which inspired more toys to be collected citywide. Imagine all the good it could do if every child had a kindness project at an early age!
Get involved at your child’s school
When you volunteer, consider what it says to your child. It’s fulfilling for you and them, and there are so many opportunities to help.
Suggest to the teacher that you’d like to chair the Kindness Kid-mittee. The kid-mittee (like a sunshine committee) could have kids (and their parents) doing kind deeds when a classmate is out sick, a family member is ill, another family is going through a difficult time or someone could use cheering up.
The members of the kid-mittee could all turn in suggestions to the Kindness Box when they notice a good deed that needs doing, or if they’ve done one, submit it to inspire the class.
Teach and instill a respect for others
Every person matters and deserves respect. Teaching children to respect each other and the environment and care for everyone and everything brightens our lives. Respect is modelled and learned, and we can all teach our children and our children’s children well.
Consider consequences for unkind behaviour
Let’s face it. Kids misbehave and sometimes aren’t so kind. For toddlers and older children who understand right and wrong, ask what they could do differently instead of pushing. What activity would your child lose if they act like that again? Be clear in your expectations, with consequences that are age-appropriate, and follow through.