With each baby giggle and infant smile, we dream about the joy our little ones will carry with them through life. Then they become toddlers and their human nature begins to rear its ugly tantrum-throwing head. As they grow through preschool and learn the art of sharing and caring, we catch glimpses of kindness and exhale with the hope that someday, they just might learn how to be decent human beings.
Then comes elementary school and we begin to see their personalities develop and we marvel at their uniqueness. By then we can see whether or not they have a cheery disposition or a melancholy soul. We realize that although there are solid principles with which we should parent, there’s a nuance and an art to figuring out how best to guide each individual child.
It’s the goal of most parents to raise kind kids. When we observe our children choosing to put a sibling or friend’s needs above their own, our heart leaps with joy. When we overhear a kind word being spoken we beam with pride.
Witnessing acts of kindness is one of our greatest joys as a parent.
I’ve always said, “If I do nothing else right as a mom . . . if my kids grow up to be completely average in activities and academics but they learn to love well . . . I will consider myself a wild success.”
And for the most part, I’m sticking to that goal. But twelve years into this motherhood gig, I’ve learned it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s not just about telling our kids over and over to BE KIND.
Kindness is not a behavior, it’s a deep value and belief system. Yes, the spirit of kindness comes out in our actions but if we teach kindness as a behavior rather than a value, our kids will abandon the habit at the first sign of conflict.
I spent years teaching my kids to “act kind” instead of nurturing the soil in their hearts that will grow kindness. A few years in I decided it was time to take the focus off their outward actions and begin cultivating a spirit of kindness within them. Because when we help our kids prepare good heart-soil and plant seeds of self-worth, they will relate to others out of an overflow of kindness.
3 Social/Emotional Skills Needed to Develop Kindness
Years ago as I was praying and asking God to show me how to raise kind kids, I heard Him clearly say,
“Raise kids who are so aware of others, so confident in their own selves and so thankful for their blessings, they can’t help but be kind.”
And ever since, it’s been my goal to focus on these three social/emotional skills.
Awareness of our surroundings and the needs of others is the first key to kindness. We can’t spread kindness if we don’t know where it’s needed. We could argue that kindness is always essential and that would be true. But being tuned into our atmosphere and each individual we come in contact with will help us cultivate an authentic spirit of kindness that flows naturally out of a noticing heart.
How do we develop this type of awareness in kids?
- Encourage kids to always be looking for others that need to be invited into the fold. On the playground, in the neighborhood, at church. Make it a habit to notice those on the fringes and invite them in.
- Help kids understand the different personalities of their friends. My daughter began learning this skill in 3rd grade. Every day she’d come home and tell me what this one did or the other one said. Finally, at the end of the year I talked her through a certain situation where she felt hurt but after looking at things through the lens of her friends’ uniqueness, she had a better understanding. She expected her friends to all act the same way in different situations. Learning each other and applying our insight to each individual helps us 1 – treat others with kindness according to their needs and 2 – filter our responses to their actions with greater understanding.
- Teach kids to develop a sense of what others are feeling. Likewise, when our noticing kids learn to sense when someone feels hurt or is just having a bad day, they can respond with compassionate kindness rather than merely reacting.
- Help kids develop the courage to reach out. More often than not, our kids aren’t being mean, they are just being meek. Courage to reach out is learned through practice. When we help our kids take the first step, even when they are scared, we teach them to find the courage to be kind.
The older I get the more I’m convinced that confidence is the key to everything. Every weak place in which I struggle can be connected to the need for greater confidence. When our kids grow up feeling secure in who they are and what they stand for, they wear confidence; an armor of assurance. Confident kids have no need to dismiss or ignore others; they are not tempted to tear down or belittle. When we’re secure in our identity, we walk in confidence and joy and it is contagious.
How do we help kids gain this type of confidence?
- Praise and affirm kids often, according to their uniqueness, not the world’s standards. It’s not about what the world (or we, for that matter) think they should be or accomplish. Our affirmations need to be centered around their unique ability and personality.
- Resist the urge to require or aim for perfection. Encourage a growth mindset that is focused on learning and growing rather than achieving.
- Allow kids to try and fail and try again. Instead of rescuing kids every time they need help, let them fail and try again. This not only develops confidence but also courage to take risks.
- Encourage endurance and persistence. Kids these days want to give up at the first sign of resistance. True and lasting confidence is built on hard work and perseverance, not overnight success.
It sounds so simple. Just teach kids to be thankful. But in our current self-focused, have-it-all-now culture, parents are climbing an uphill battle if they desire to teach their children to be thankful for what they have and practice gratitude when things aren’t going the way they’d like. It’s true, we’re fighting the most self-involved, opportunistic cultural landscape of all time. But that only makes it more imperative for parents to instill a value of gratitude in our kids.
How do we help kids develop and practice gratitude?
- Cultivate an atmosphere of gratitude at home. Make your everyday conversations full of thanksgiving for each other and every blessing you enjoy. Start by focusing on these essential elements of a joy-filled family.
- Say NO more often and stick to it. The more our kids get, the less thankful they are. Every now and then kids need to be told NO. It’s not that we find joy in withholding good things from our kids. But the greater blessing comes with balance. Kids will find deeper satisfaction with less stuff, less opportunity, and less activity.
- Make it a habit to look for the good in every situation. Teaching kids to look at the glass as half full will serve them well throughout their entire lives. But this is a value that comes with lots of practice. Play the “glad game” as Pollyanna called it. Always try to find the good and you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to be glad in any situation.
- Practice being thankful by sharing words of gratitude out loud and often. Gratitude is a seed that blooms in our hearts but it must also be spoken aloud if it’s going to take root and thrive. As parents, we lead the way here. Our kids need to hear us speaking words of gratitude out loud on a regular basis. If you’re more apt to complain (this is a struggle for me), work on finding and speaking 3 things you are thankful for every time you want to complain about something.
- Make generosity a part of your family culture. The more we open our eyes to the vast needs of others, the more thankful we’ll become for what we have. Give of your time and resources as a family as a way to cultivate a spirit of generosity and develop gratitude.
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. Amelia Earhart
The aspiration to raise kind kids is a noble one. The world needs as much kindness as it can get and we, as parents, have the privilege of equipping our children with seeds of awareness, confidence, and gratitude.