How to Raise Kind Kids
My son was recently teased for having long hair. It wasn't the first time. While boys with long hair does seem to be on the rise, he still stands out among the crowd. He was devastated.
I won't lie — the mama bear in me wanted to just view those other kids as mean bullies, but the truth is that sometimes little kids just say things. They comment on stuff they don't understand. They point out differences without thinking about how they use their words. And sometimes they say unkind things out of frustration.
It is important to take a proactive approach to raising kind kids. Social skills develop over time, and oftentimes, kids simply don't know when they're hurting others.
We talked about how it feels when friends say hurtful things. We talked about what was happening at the time the hurtful things were said. In the first case, the other boy was struggling to keep up during a group game. In the second, my son was on a roll in a pickup soccer game at school and scored three goals in a row.
Kids make mistakes — we all make mistakes — so instead of focusing on the unkind words that were said, we talked about how the other kids might have felt and why they might have made those comments. We also talked about the importance of celebrating differences and using kind words.
I wish I could ensure that this won't happen again, but it probably will. It's OK, though — we practiced counterstatements so that my son knows exactly what to say, and he knows that he is great just the way he is.
If we guide them and help them work through their mistakes, we can empower them to be kind and caring individuals.
Talk about emotions
All too often, we set very specific limits without getting to the heart of the matter. When kids are unkind, feelings are hurt. It sounds simple, but if we don't address emotions directly, this important life lesson can be missed.
Talk about how people feel when others are unkind. Talk about how people might actually be feeling when they are unkind to others. Making the connections between feelings and behaviors, helps kids consider how their actions affect other people. Once they understand that, it's easier to teach them to slow down and think before they act.
Use a kindness tracker
Each time you witness or hear about an act of kindness within the family and in the world, add it to a list of kind acts in a journal or on a poster. Review the kindness tracker during a family meal and talk about how those kind acts made a difference to someone else.
Taking the time to label and discuss acts of kindness helps kids internalize the message that kind acts — both big and small — make a big difference in the world.
Volunteering to help those in need can be a very powerful experience for families. As much as parents want to protect their kids from the sad things in the world, honest communication about human suffering actually increases empathy and kindness. It empowers kids to figure out ways to make a difference.
Sometimes it feels like there simply isn't enough time in the week to get the whole family together to engage in a community service project. Don't let time and schedules stop you from spreading kindness. Think small.
Helping an elderly neighbor rake leaves or unload groceries is a great small act of kindness that gets kids involved in serving the community. You can also start small projects within your community, like asking friends and family to donate personal care items to create personal care packs for a nearby shelter.
When kids see kindness in action, they learn to become change-makers. Let's inspire a new generation of community helpers by putting kindness front and center in our homes and talking honestly about the differences between kind and unkind behaviors.