|My husband and I have two sons and a daughter, ages 6, 10 and 15. None of our kids are particularly kind to others. They think mostly of themselves and what they can get from people without being nice or respectful. What can we do to raise kinder kids, especially in this time when our world needs more kindness?|
Respect, kindness and empathy for others go hand in hand. Here are some tips for modeling and teaching all three.
- Model kind behavior. Don’t make fun of acquaintances, strangers or your family. This can lead your kids to make fun of their peers. Set a good example and say kind things to your kids and others.
- Teach children about the spirit of giving just to give, rather than to get something in return like rewards or recognition.
- Don’t let your children talk to you or others in a rude way. You want them to learn to be respectful. If your child demands something, don’t put them down or give them what they rudely ask for. Instead, wait until they find a way to ask with respect. You might prompt them with, “A kinder way to ask might be, ‘I would like X, please.’” When they are rude to your spouse or others, offer examples of better ways to interact.
- Consider any teasing of your children on your part. Could your teasing be degrading or hurtful in any way? Ask each of your kids in private how they feel about being teased at home. If you change your ways for their benefit, they will see how behaviors can change when taking others’ feelings into account.
- Teach empathy. One way to do this is to play the empathy game from a safe distance at a park or another place with a variety of people. Ask your child to guess the emotions various people are experiencing. Then ask your child to make up a story about what might have brought on this emotion.
- Discuss with your children how their behavior affects others.
- Praise kids for any acts of kindness that they engage in. Point out acts of kindness by characters on television and in books.
8. Read books on kindness. There are many that focus on this topic, for toddlers up to teens.
- Offer to help neighbors and family members. If you take your neighbor’s dog for a walk, include your child in the walk. Have your children help you make food to take to someone in need. Help your child learn to look for ways to help those around them. They might sit down with a person who is alone, listen to a person talk, thank a parent, load the dishwasher, clear the table, open a door for someone or smile at everyone.
There are many opportunities to teach kindness, respect and empathy on a daily basis. According to Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project, “We should work to cultivate children’s concern for others because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do, and also because when children can empathize with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful.” So, teaching children kindness benefits everyone.
By Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.