So you want your child to be kind . . . 13 things to consider

Plan acts of kindness, lead by positive example, start early and be consistent

Long before babies can talk and understand words, they’ve begun their life education by watching. Photograph: iStock

Long before babies can talk and understand words, they’ve begun their life education by watching. Photograph: iStock

 

As with most aspects of parenting, the example you set is likely to be the biggest factor in raising a kind-hearted child. Long before babies can talk and understand words, they’ve begun their life education by watching.

A child’s capacity to be kind is waiting to be nurtured and developed, says psychotherapist Joanna Fortune. “Kindness isn’t a light switch within the feeling centre of our brain or within our emotional hearts. It’s a conscious practice and it takes long-term practice to embed kindness as a default behaviour.”

Here are 13 ways, as suggested by Fortune and positive psychologist Jolanta Burke, to cultivate one of the best habits for life.

1: Start early and keep it up

Consistent messaging about treating everyone with authentic and genuine care is not just for little children.

2: Use the “wondering” technique

When a child is recounting some drama about a peer getting into trouble for fighting, encourage them to think about the situation from another child’s point of view by “wondering” about what that boy or girl was feeling to make them act like that.

3: Lead by positive example

Talking is never enough, we have to let them see us be kind and do kind – most powerfully through small, subtle, everyday things rather than grandiose actions.

4: Parent with kindness

As the mother of a small child, Fortune finds that instead of a stream of “no”, “no”, “no”, it is more effective if she says: “Please don’t climb on the furniture, I am worried you are going to get hurt.” It is an approach that is more likely to get an “Okay then” in response, rather than be met with a defiant: “What, do you mean this, right here, what are you going to do about it?” attitude.

5: Don’t try to match a teenager’s frustration

As tempting as it can be to give as good as you get from a stroppy teenager, meet every interaction with kindness, even if it may not be appreciated – at least for another decade.

6: Smile and make eye contact with everybody you’re dealing with

This shows children how we try to connect with people around us and appreciate others.

7: Do random acts of kindness

Spot opportunities to spontaneously work with children as a “team” to help others.

8: Plan intentional acts of kindness

We may experience higher levels of wellbeing if we do three big or five small acts of kindness in one day than scatter them across a week. So, you could encourage your children to do a cluster of “chores”, for which no payment should be made.

9: Observe it in others

Just seeing other people being helpful can give us a wellbeing boost, so point out examples you encounter, perhaps on television, to children.

10: Give time

This is something children can do to help a friend, relative or neighbour with something.

11: Give money

Decide as a family what organisation you will donate money to and why. Maybe ask older children to research and shortlist two to three deserving causes, which they need to “sell” to the rest of the family members.

12: Recycle socially

Children can help choose toys or clothes that they want to give away to other children or charity shops.

13: Challenge teenagers

Not only to do and record one kind deed every day for a month but to also track their mood while they are doing it and see what difference it makes. 

Read: There’s nothing ‘soft’ about being kind

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