27 Ways to Encourage Kindness in Kids
The desire to offer comfort and help to others is one that comes naturally to most people — we’re sociable creatures and we rely on cooperation to survive. But to raise children who value empathy and kindness, some work is required.
Luckily, there are many ways to encourage your kids to be kind (and help make the world a better place at the same time).
Teach Good Manners
Saying “please” and “thank you,” greeting people politely and responding to questions politely are the foundations of good manners.
It’s a win-win situation; your children will be respectful toward you at home, and you’ll be proud of their manners when they interact with other people.
The Takeaway on Teaching Good Manners
Celebrate Stories of Kindness
There’s no shortage of bad news out there. But good things happen, too — every day, in every part of the world.
Your kids will feel more positive about their future if you highlight the efforts of kind people who make it a priority to help others. This might mean cutting out newspaper articles about the achievements of volunteer groups in your local community or sharing your own experience.
The Takeaway on Celebrating Stories of Kindness
Notice Your Child’s Efforts
You can extend your celebration of kindness to your own children’s actions — no matter how small.
For instance, if your kid helps out their sibling or offers to take out the trash without being asked, let them know you’ve noticed and that you appreciate it.
The Takeaway on Noticing Your Child’s Efforts
A big part of showing appreciation is giving compliments, and one teacher showed just how much of an impact it can have.
He dedicated 10 minutes a day to complimenting his students, and the culture of his classroom completely changed — the kids started being more kind and complimenting each other on their own.
The Takeaway on Giving Compliments
And Receive Compliments
Just as important as giving compliments is knowing how to receive them. You just need to keep it simple — a “thank you” and a smile is all the response that’s necessary.
Try to avoid false modesty or grandstanding, which can come across as disingenuous.
The Takeaway on Receiving Compliments
Practice Random Acts of Kindness
We all have numerous opportunities, every day, to show kindness to others — and often, it only takes a few minutes. You might have a friend who’s under pressure at work and would appreciate you picking her kids up from school when you collect your own.
And leaving a bunch of flowers or a heartfelt, handwritten card on someone’s doorstep can give them the boost they need to get through a difficult time.
The Takeaway on Practicing Random Acts of Kindness
Volunteer for Good Causes
Volunteering as a family has multiple benefits; not only does it help others, it can also bring your family closer together. If your child is old enough to volunteer alone, encourage them to pursue something that they’re passionate about, such as helping out at an animal shelter or cleaning up trash to help protect the environment.
Volunteer Match is a good place to start, as it lets you search volunteer opportunities by zip code, with icons marking those that are suitable for kids and teens. Other websites for prospective volunteers include Youth Service America, The Humane Society and Key Club. Involve your child in the process and help them find something they’ll get excited about.
The Takeaway on Volunteering
Be Mindful of Teasing
Lighthearted teasing can be part of a family’s DNA, but not all kids deal with it well. Even if you don’t think your teasing is cruel, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s response.
If they react by crying, withdrawing or storming off, they’re probably feeling humiliated.
The Takeaway on Teasing
Showing empathy (the ability to share and relate to other people’s feelings) is an important social skill.
Kids who learn empathy, both at home and in the classroom, may be able to form more positive, trusting friendships.
The Takeaway on Teaching Empathy
Model Empathy Whenever You Can
The most important thing to do if you want your child to learn empathy is model this skill yourself. In other words, show acceptance, compassion and kindness toward other people at every opportunity.
Of course, nobody is perfect! But if you miss an opportunity to respond with empathy, you can use this to talk to your child about what you didn’t do and how you could have responded in a more positive way.
The Takeaway on Modeling Empathy
Look for the Positive
Cultivating a positive attitude from a young age sets your child up for good mental health and helps them deal with disappointment and frustration.
This also affects others in their life who expect your child to be understanding.
The Takeaway on Positivity
Practice What You Preach
It’s impossible to control what your child says and does at all times, particularly as they grow older and start to make more of their own decisions. But you can control your own words and actions.
Remember, your child starts mimicking you from a very young age, so it’s never too early to model thoughtfulness.
The Takeaway on Practicing What You Preach
Nip Rudeness in the Bud
If you let your child speak to you rudely at home, they might believe it’s OK for them to talk to everybody that way. So don’t accept rudeness under any circumstances.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to be heavy-handed — it’s possible to improve their manners without criticizing or punishing them.
The Takeaway on Rudeness
Highlight Rudeness in Others
It’s not nice to bear the brunt of someone else’s bad mood, but you can teach your child that you don’t have to respond with the same negativity.
For instance, if someone is rude to you at the post office, you could say to your child, “That person must have been going through a hard time to use a mean voice like that at the post office. What do you think was going on with them?”
The Takeaway on Rudess in Others
Acknowledge Kindness in Others
It’s also important to point out when other people are kind to you, from the friend who picked up your groceries when you had to work late to the driver who slowed down to let you merge into their lane.
Even the stranger who smiles when they pass you on the street deserves recognition.
The Takeaway on Kindness in Others
Be Sensitive to Media Messaging
It’s impossible to shut out the digital world these days, no matter how vigilant you are about screen time.
Bear in mind that it’s natural for kids to imitate behavior they see online, whether it’s positive or negative, so try steering your children toward constructive content and messaging.
The Takeaway on Media Messaging
The Takeaway on Positive Reading Material
Don’t Encourage Sibling Competition
Competition between siblings isn’t uncommon, but try to avoid pitting your children against each other. Saying things like, “Let’s see who can tidy their room the fastest” might seem harmless (and productive!), but it teaches them that other people are instrumental in their success or failure.
A more positive approach is to encourage them to work together to achieve something.
The Takeaway on Sibling Competition
Kindness takes many forms in personal relationships, including patience.
In a 2014 study, Debra R. Comer and Leslie E. Sekerka wrote that “patience involves emphatically assuming some personal discomfort to alleviate the suffering of those around us.”
The Takeaway on Teaching Patient
Model Patience Yourself
It’s not easy for young kids to appreciate the importance of patience — or, indeed, how to practice it.
But you can model patience yourself in the way you respond to their nonstop questions, like “Are we there yet?” or “When is dinner ready?”
The Takeaway on Modeling Patience
Another way to help your child develop kindness is to teach them to turn it inward.
In other words, teach them to treat themselves with compassion.
The Takeaway on Cultivating Self-Compassion
The Thoughtful Parent recommends modeling self-compassion by eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of sleep, and treating yourself with kindness and understanding.
And that includes when you make mistakes.
The Takeaway on Practicing Self-Care
Encourage Mindful Speaking
Do you remember being told, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? These days, it’s all about mindful speaking. This involves taking a moment to think about the impact of your words.
Naturally, unkind words leave everyone’s lips from time to time. If your child says something hurtful, talk to them about it, and figure out the best way to apologize to the person who was on the receiving end.
The Takeaway on Mindful Speaking
Consider ‘The Three Gates’
A simple way to practice mindful speaking, “The Three Gates” requires you to ask yourself three questions: Are my words true? Are they helpful? Are they kind?
If any of the answers are “no,” the words shouldn’t be spoken — they can’t pass through the three gates.
The Takeaway on ‘The Three Gates’
Send Kind Thoughts
Yes, you can spread kindness without saying a single word. A meditation practice known as metta is all about cultivating compassion for yourself and others via kindness mantras.
You can tailor the mantra to suit yourself, provided the focus is sending kind thoughts to yourself, then those you love, then those you feel impartial toward and finally those you dislike. Studies show that the benefits of having a loving-kindness meditation practice on social and emotional well-being are far-reaching, so it’s a good thing to start with your kids from a young age.
One study even showed that a single seven-minute loving-kindness meditation made people feel more accepting of themselves and more connected to and positive about others — both loved ones and total strangers.
The Takeaway on Sending Kind Thoughts
Help Your Child Manage Destructive Feelings
If your child feels engulfed by anger, envy, guilt or other negative emotions, they might struggle to show compassion to others.
By helping them understand that there are no “bad” feelings and focusing instead on productive ways to handle certain difficult emotions, they’ll be better equipped to avoid complete overwhelm.
The Takeaway on Managing Destructive Feelings
Focus on Breathing
A really easy way to help your child to calm down is to ask them to stop what they’re doing, take a deep breath through their nose and then exhale through their mouth to the count of five.
It’s something you can also practice during calm moments, which helps to turn it into a positive, familiar coping strategy.
The Takeaway on Focusing on Your Breath