We’re pretty good at teaching math and history. We’re on less steady footing when it comes to emotional topics. How, for example, do you teach kindness?
As we enter the holiday season, it’s time to consider how we can best teach our children to be kind, compassionate and considerate. The need for such lessons is particularly compelling now, as we confront a world that seems less kind and caring each day.
Teaching kindness really isn’t hard to do. Like much other behavior, you as a parent need to model kindness so that your children understand it’s something they can and should do. Simple words of gratitude, a smile, a flower or a compliment is all it takes to brighten someone’s day.
I saw this in action one afternoon at Descanso Gardens, when a young couple overheard a veteran’s story and came over to thank him for his service to our country. As they engaged in conversation, the older veteran was beaming and excited that someone had engaged him. Kindness is easy and inexpensive to give.
Kindness lessons can start at a young age and continue into adulthood. As parents, we express kindness in many ways but may need to identify for younger children what kindness is and why we’re doing it. As kids get older they tend to become self-absorbed. It’s useful to remind them to look beyond their own wants and needs so they can see who in their orbit would benefit from a supportive or encouraging word or a “thank you” for something they did.
Dinnertime, assuming the family still eats together, is an excellent time to ask your children if they were kind to someone today, and if so, how. Reward their efforts with praise and share with them what you did to make someone’s day a bit happier or easier.
High school is a challenge when it comes to kindness. High school students want to be accepted and few want to be different. Gently remind your child that being kind can take many forms, including standing up for those who are being bullied or who are not part of the “in crowd.” Encourage your child to think about volunteering to help those who are homeless, have disabilities or need tutoring or mentoring. The very act of being there and showing interest is an act of kindness.
Acts of kindness aren’t limited to school. It could be giving someone a ride home during a rainstorm, picking up a friend at the airport, getting a younger brother or sister something to eat, or jump starting someone’s car. There are opportunities every day; encourage your child to look for them and respond and to not be too busy to care.
Here is a challenge you and your child can share: First, notice how many times you have an opportunity to do something simple to help, whether at home, work, school or with friends. Second, perform some simple acts of kindness every day. Third, notice how it feels after you you’ve been kind to someone. Finally, when you are the recipient of an act of kindness, acknowledge it and express your gratitude. That’s what makes kindness grow.
Happy Thanksgiving. May your life be as full as your table, and may kindness be part of your daily life.