One of the most important lessons a child can learn is how to be kind.
Raising children to be empathetic, considerate individuals should be the goal of every parent. Being kind comes with a wealth of benefits, like living a longer and more fulfilling life. Acts of kindness have even been reported to elicit a mood-boosting, biochemical ‘helper’s high’ that can reduce anxiety and release endorphins.
In an era of increasing social pressure and judgement – thanks to the rise in social media apps and platforms – it is important now, more than ever, that our younger generations are taught how to treat each other with kindness.
Unfortunately, teaching children kindness isn’t quite as straightforward as teaching them maths or English. You’ve likely found yourself wondering – ‘how can I teach my child to be kind?’
That’s why we’ve gathered some straightforward strategies that parents and foster carers can take to encourage kindness in their kids. These strategies will help instil empathy, compassion, and consideration for others in your children, aiding their development and improving their understanding of the world around them.
Lead By Example
It goes without saying that the best way to teach your child to be kind, is by modelling kindness yourself.
According to social learning theory, the primary way that children and young people learn is by watching other people. You might notice that your child is more inclined to hold the door open for a stranger if they observe you doing the same. This is because children model their behaviour on the people around them, regardless of whether these behaviours are healthy or unhealthy.
When teaching kindness, it is important to remember that your child will learn most from the example you set. Modelling kind behaviour – like helping a neighbour with their shopping or volunteering your time for a good cause – will help your child develop their own ideas about kindness.
Reinforce Their Kind Behaviour
Rewarding children for exhibiting kind behaviour encourages them to continue to display it. Praising children for exhibiting altruistic, kindness motivates them, and helps them associate kind acts with positive outcomes.
While the aim is reinforcing kind behaviour, praise should be aimed at rewarding your child’s character, rather than just their actions. Rather than solely celebrating the act – ‘What a kind thing to do’ – try focusing your praise on them as people – ‘What a kind person you are.’
Similarly, avoid using external rewards – such as treats, tv-time and toys – to reward kind behaviour, as this could send your child the wrong message, teaching them that kindness is only worth performing if there is a prize involved.
Wonder About Others’ Feelings
Some children can have a harder time reading non-verbal social cues, such as displays of emotion, which makes it harder for them to relate to other people’s experiences.
By actively encouraging your child to observe and identify other people’s expressions, you can encourage them to consider how other people are feeling and thinking.
When in public spaces – such as a supermarket or park – try encouraging your child to wonder about the emotions of people around you. Ask them questions like:
- What do you think they are feeling right now?
- Where do you think they have been today?
- Are they having a good day or a bad day?
These questions will get your child used to identifying non-verbal emotional cues, inviting them to be more aware about the experiences of other people.
Involve Them in Volunteering
Another brilliant way to teach your child kindness is by building kindness into their routine. Lending a helping hand to local charities, shelters and volunteer programmes with your child teaches them how valuable giving up their time can be.
Try to make time for you and your child to do things like visit retirement homes, litter pick, volunteer at shelters, attend bake sales or fundraise.
Involving your children in acts of kindness has plenty of benefits, like enhancing your child’s world perspective, improving their self-confidence, and teaching them about giving back to their community.
You can find more family-friendly ideas for giving back to your community here.
Guide Them in Regulating Emotions
Sometimes, being kind is more difficult when we are overcome by strong or destructive emotions. Lashing out when angry, referred to by psychologists as displaced aggression, occurs when people who are feeling strong emotions of anger seek to relieve theirs stress by attacking others.
Displaced anger is particularly common in children who have experienced trauma in their past, like foster children, who often struggle with regulating their emotions.
Feeling angry, hurt, or embarrassed can make it harder to choose kindness, which is why it is important that children learn to regulate their emotions and deal with destructive feelings in a healthy way. Kindness isn’t always easy. However, helping your child manage their challenging behaviour and feelings in a productive manner will help them learn to express their emotions in a kinder, more thoughtful way that doesn’t cause harm to others.
Being kind is one of the most important moral lessons a child can learn.
There’s no definitive way for teaching your child kindness, but these simple strategies are sure to aid your child in learning to become kinder and more sensitive to the needs of others.
By teaching your child kindness from an early age, you help to set them up for a better, more fulfilling life, improving their empathy for others, generosity, and general understanding of the world.
If you think you could have a positive impact on the life of a vulnerable young person, get in touch with us to find out more about fostering.