Parenting is tough. We want to be the best parents possible, and we want to raise our children to become wonderful people. Parenting is often filled with worry and second-guessing--we make a mistake and wonder if it's going to affect our children for the rest of their lives. The truth is, we all make mistakes, and children are actually quite resilient! It's doubtful that forgetting to pack your child's favorite sandwich for lunch or being late for a birthday party is going to scar them for life... Things happen, and much of it is out of our control. What is not out of our control, however, is teaching our children to be good people--it just requires a little perspective. Raising a child who gets straight A-s throughout their school career is not nearly as important as raising a child who makes a positive impact on the lives of others. Teaching kindness is incredibly important--we have some tips on how you can raise your children to be kind and caring individuals:
1. Show them--every day. The first step in teaching your child to be kind to others is to show them how to do it. Make an effort to be kind to family members, friends, and strangers on a daily basis and make sure your child sees it. There are opportunities everywhere for you and your child to show kindness to others--pick some flowers from your garden and bring them to your neighbor, hold doors for others, let the person behind you in line in the grocery store go ahead of you, buy a stranger a cup of coffee, offer to help a neighbor with yard work--the list goes on and on. If your child sees you being kind to others on a regular basis, it will become second nature.
2. Teach them to empathize. Empathy is the backbone of kindness. Understanding what it feels like to be in another person's shoes allows a child to truly embrace kindness. Teach your children to think about what another person is feeling before making quick judgments. It's not enough to just tell your children to empathize with others--you must set an example. There are many instances when we are having a bad day and become frustrated with others, failing to understand that they might be having just as bad of a day--or worse. Keep empathy at the front of your mind and show your child that you consider how it feels to be in those other shoes. Next time you are standing in line forever at the crowded grocery store, be pleasant to the cashier when it's your turn. Smile, ask them how their day is going, treat them like an actual person. Explain to your child that it must be very difficult to have such a busy job where customers become frustrated with you a lot. If you get the wrong dish at a restaurant or your food is cold, don't get angry--show your child that you understand that it must be difficult to wait on so many customers and that your server probably feels embarrassed that they made a mistake. Be understanding of others' feelings and your child will learn to empathize as well.
3. Show them that it's not always about "me". While we all strive to be happy, and we want our children to be happy, teaching kindness means teaching that the bottom line is not always making yourself happy. It's about being there to help and support others. Join volunteer groups so that your child can see that you care about helping others, even though you don't receive a physical reward or compensation for it. School PTA groups are an excellent way for your child to see you in action--volunteering to help at their school benefits all of the students. Another way to reinforce this idea is to make sure you always follow through--many times we sign up for things or tell people we will help them and then we really don't feel like doing it when the time comes. It's imperative that you follow through so your child understands that even though it might not make you happy to do the extra work, it helps someone else and it could really hurt them if you bailed. Honoring a commitment is an important lesson in ethics and kindness.
4. Provide opportunities to practice kindness. As with any other skill, learning to be kind takes practice. Just as you have to show them how to be kind every day through your actions, your child needs to practice it with their own actions. Assign jobs to your child that contribute to your household--encourage them to pick up their dirty clothes, set the table, hang up their coat, or feed the pets. They'll begin to understand that doing those jobs is kind because when everyone does a job, all the work doesn't fall on one person in the home. Hanging out with friends is a great opportunity for your child to practice kind acts such as sharing new toys, helping their friend with homework, or simply listening when their friend has had a bad day. Communicate with your child's teacher and find out if they have classroom jobs that benefit the school community, as this is an excellent way for them to practice kindness on a daily basis.
5. Don't offer rewards. Teaching kindness can get a bit tricky sometimes because our natural reaction is to reward our children for good deeds. Offering an abundance of rewards every time your child demonstrates an act of kindness is going to end up blurring your message--they'll associate being kind with a physical reward, and they'll only do it because they will get something in return. You want your child to be kind because it is the right thing to do, not because they expect a prize. It's great to let them know that you are proud of the choices they make, just don't overdo it. Also, ask them how their kind act makes them feel--chances are, they'll eventually learn that the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from being kind to others is all the reward they need.
A little bit of kindness goes a long way, and it is very important for our children to embrace that message. Unfortunately, the world has become a tough place filled with violence and unnecessary hatred. Leading by example and filling your days with kindness will teach your child how to empathize with others and kindness will just come to them naturally.