As parents and educators, one of our greatest efforts is to raise kind children who will grow up to be good, and kind adults. When faced with the choice to help others, we hope that they will spring to action. We hope that they will treat others the way they wish to be treated and stand up for others when they can not stand up for themselves. We don’t want them to be cruel, prejudiced or intolerant towards others. However, as we know it is hard to always be good and kind adults. Sometimes it is hard to share regardless of age. There are times where we lack the bravery to break from the pack to show kindness, or we feel like we do not have to tools to let alone help ourselves, to help others. The good news is that we are going to share some tips on teaching kindness.
How can we teach kindness?
Kindness is an important behavior we should all practice daily, no matter how difficult it can be. Since kindness is a behavior it can be trained through repetition. Now we know how children learn best, through copying those around them. You know what that means? YES, it all comes down to you, you have the greatest opportunity and responsibility to teach your children kindness by modeling it.
What is it about modeling that helps our children learn kindness?
It comes down to mirror neurons which are cells in the brain that wire us for imitation and they are especially active during childhood. That is why it is important to surround your kids with good role models at a young age and to be one! When children observe an action, their brains respond as if they are performing the action themselves. Wow! I need to check those shows and games I let them play. Their brains form new neural pathways, and these create the basis for behaviors that stick with them throughout their lives.
What about when they get older? How do we continue to learn new behaviors?
I am glad you asked! Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change, we all have the aptitude to learn new behaviors, including becoming kinder! Children’s brains are particularly moldable, as they’ve had less time to solidify lifelong habits. So if you want to encourage more kindness in your children and in the world, which we always need, here are some fun things you can do:
1. Send kind thoughts
Kindness can sometimes be as simple as a wish for the well-being of others. As we learned in our mindfulness series, thoughts are extremely powerful and set up our actions. Simply start by making it a practice that you imagine someone or a group of people that you want to send kind thoughts to and then say out loud, “May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be safe.” This practice helps kids get into the habit of thinking kind thoughts more often.
2. Share stories of kindness
Choose books and stories with kindness themes. There are many great stories to choose from! Stories are a powerful and highly influential way for kids to learn without direct teaching. For younger children, read stories out loud that invoke their imaginations. For older children, stock their reading list with plenty of kind role models.
3. Smile more often
In a study conducted in Sweden, when people looked at others who were smiling, their muscles twitched into smiles involuntarily. Play a smiling game with your kids to show them how smiling truly is contagious. The simple act of smiling can spread the warmth of kindness far and wide, as others smile in return and continue to pass the smile on.
4. Play the compliment game
It feels good to receive a compliment. In fact, researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan found that the same area in the brain, the striatum, is activated when a person receives a compliment as when they are given money. A great way to do this with multiple children is to toss a ball around, giving a compliment to someone each time they make a throw.
5. Practice random acts of kindness
Random acts of kindness can be anything that will make someone’s day a little brighter. They don’t even have to know who did it. Challenge your family to perform random acts of kindness for others.
6. Try empathy charades
Having empathy for others requires putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how they feel. Exploring worldviews through literature, sharing stories, movies and encourage them to do meaningful community service, youth develop higher levels of empathy and compassion. Try drawing images of faces on a board or large piece of paper and have your children guess the emotion that’s being displayed. Also, try acting out different emotions and guess what other people are feeling. Empathy Charades is one of our favorite games.
7. Volunteer for good
Whether you take small or big actions, help other people or help animals, there is always a way to lend a helping hand. Involving kids in volunteer work teaches them that it feels good to be helpful. You might collect garbage from the park, visit a local retirement home, or clean out your closets to make a donation to those in need. Perhaps your kids will be inspired to fund-raise for a good cause. There is no limit to what your kindness can do.
Being kind to others feels good. It helps take our attention off of our own troubles, and also creates a feeling of interconnectedness. Together, we can make the world a better place with acts of kindness both big and small. For 2020 we are challenging ourselves and you to be kinder. Download a Kindness Journal and track your kindness throughout the year. Let’s make kindness the new cool this year!
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