Emily Buckley, editor in chief
As I prepare my family for school each fall, one of my kids’ favorite tasks is gathering fresh school supplies for the year. There is just something about a fresh box of crayons, a clean notebook, and a fun backpack that helps them put their best foot forward for a successful new school year.
I’d venture to say that even more important than any of these supplies is arming our children with kindness, inclusion, and empathy — virtues that will help them and everyone they encounter find happiness. In fact, a recent Harvard Graduate School study speaks to the importance of kindness and how it sets children up for a lifetime of success, both personally and professionally.
Here are three tips to help you instill kindness
in your children:
MODEL KINDNESS THROUGH GRATITUDE
One of the best ways to teach kindness is to model being kind to others. Help your young children become aware of all of the people in their neighborhood — it’s reminiscent of the Sesame Street theme song our generation grew up on, right?
Teach your kids, by example, to acknowledge and thank people in their own community who serve them. This may include teachers, peers, custodians, cafeteria staff, crossing guards, and more. Teach them to call these people by their proper names and show gratitude in word and deed. Kids look to parents and other trusted adults as models for what’s expected; if we are treating others kindly, they will follow suit.
TEACH EMPATHY WITH INTENTIONALITY
When studying The 7 Habits of Happy Kids a few years ago, I learned an important habit that helps children (and adults!) learn to be kind to others, especially when dealing with conflict: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This skill helps us see each other through a kindness lens and appreciate what others feel. Role play ways your kids can manage conflict and misunderstandings by asking questions and considering the way others may view a situation.
CREATE A KINDNESS CHALLENGE
There is nothing wrong with making kindness a game! Challenge your kids to seek out ways to be kind in everyday life. Brainstorm ways they can serve within their regular routine (like holding the door for the person behind them, picking up 10 pieces of trash off the classroom floor without being asked, offering a sincere compliment, or inviting someone new to join their friends at recess or lunch). When my kids hop in the car after school, I often include asking for a report on their kindness challenge along with their report on what they learned in class or what homework they have. They love telling me about their good deeds.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE EFFECTS OF KINDNESS
Kindness doesn’t only have to be altruistic; you can practice it for the reward of feeling good. There is joy and self-worth to be found in serving and loving others. Similarly, you want your kids to notice when people are showing kindness toward them. Noticing will engender gratitude. In the long run, kindness will benefit everyone — the practitioners and the recipients — in a million different ways. Both have a ripple effect, and couldn’t matter more.