Most parents want their kids to grow into ethical, caring and sensitive adults who care about others. While human beings are hardwired for kindness, we must be shown how to cultivate this attribute. Kids, in particular, need that guidance...and it all starts with the parents. Luckily, there are six ways to teach your kids to be kind:
Lead by example
As parents, you are role models for your kids. They look up to you and follow your lead to figure out how to respond to certain situations. "[C]hildren learn how to behave, act and deal with life situations first and foremost by watching their parents," according to Professor's House. So, if you want your kids to be kind and compassionate human beings, you must act this way yourself.
When your kids are young, they want to follow your example. Be a positive influence so they will emulate your behavior. Be polite and courteous to others and make sure your kids understand the reason behind your behaviors and actions.
Teach kids to value caring and empathy
Parents also shape the framework for kids' priorities and values. When you teach your kids to value kindness and empathy, they're more likely to engage in these behaviors themselves. The way you acknowledge and reward certain actions impacts your kids' behavior. According to a study, about 80 percent of the youth participants said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether or not they cared for others.
Shift these priorities so your kids understand that kindness is more important than achievements or individual happiness. Of course, this doesn't mean that these things aren't important - but stress the significance of kindness and help your kids understand why they should care about other people.
Practice makes perfect
Humans are inherently wired for kindness, but we can continue to develop this trait through practice. Just like any trait or skill, if you don't use it, you lose it.
Give your kids chances to practice kindness. In social situations, ask your son or daughter what he or she can do to help someone else. Challenge them to be kind to their classmates and encourage them to do little things like smiling, saying "please and thank you," writing thank you cards, volunteering, donating food or clothing to local charities or simply paying someone a compliment. Help them understand that even little actions can make a big difference; there are countless ways to be kind - the important part is putting in the effort.
If you tell your son or daughter to be courteous to others, but you're rude while stuck in traffic, you are sending mixed messages. Of course, there will be times where you feel frustrated, but take advantage of these opportunities to teach your child a lesson.
You can help your son or daughter understand that other people's' actions may not always make them happy, but they can choose how they respond to these situations. Teach them that even if other people act in a less favorable way, it doesn't give them an excuse to not treat others with compassion.
Help kids understand their feelings
Empathy is defined as understanding and being aware of the feelings and emotions of other people. To understand others' feelings, children need to understand their own emotions. From a young age, teach your kids to identify their feelings. If your child is angry, ask him or her to describe this emotion. Then, ask your child if they can tell you who or what caused this reaction. When you repeat this process consistently, your kids will learn to understand their feelings and also recognize what causes negative and positive emotions. This will help them understand their own feelings, and the feelings of others.
Now that your kids understand why they should be kind to others, make sure to acknowledge and reinforce their positive behavior. This will help them continue to be kind and courteous to others. When you see your children acting this way, let them know you're proud of them. Help them feel good about being kind to others.
Also, make sure to acknowledge kind behavior even when you're not there to witness it. When they come home from school or a friend's house, ask them what they did to be polite or help others. Did they use their manners? Help to clean up? Cheer someone up when they were sad? Let your children know that even when you're not around, their behavior makes a difference.
How do you stress the importance of kindness in your home? We would love to hear the ideas and tactics that work for you. Share them with us in the comments below!
Maile Proctor is a full-time blogger and content editor. She has written for Active.com, Entertainment Tonight Online, and TakeLessons.com. Maile earned her Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking in San Diego, finding new, fun fitness activities, and officiating basketball in Southern California. Maile would love to hear from you, follow her on Twitter.