If I had to choose one thing to define my success as a parent, it would be raising kids who are kind to others. When I look back years from now when my kids are grown, if I can see them as kind individuals, I will feel I have fulfilled my purpose.
That may seem like I’m oversimplifying the whole parenting gig, but when it comes down to it, I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of kindness.
Kindness is central to love, compassion, empathy, and generosity. Having a kind heart can change your perspective so you see others in a new way, and I truly believe spreading kindness can change the world.
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As if that weren’t reason enough, kindness has real benefits for the giver. Expressing kindness increases serotonin and oxytocin, chemicals in the body responsible for feelings of happiness and love. Regularly practicing kindness also reduces blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones, and can even prolong life.
If you landed on this post, there’s probably a good chance you were already convinced that kindness is an important trait for your kid to have.
So how do you get them there?
In a world where news headlines are filled with evil acts, where bullying is rampant, and where personal connections have largely been replaced by screens, where do you start?
Here’s how you can get started:
1. Help your child recognize feelings
Before you can teach a child how their actions and words affect others, they first need to learn how to recognize feelings. Talk to them about their feelings and what caused them:
“Are you feeling frustrated? What happened?”
This will help them see the cause and effect nature of feelings. Let them know it’s okay to have feelings, while also teaching them constructive ways to handle them.
When reading books, ask your child how they think different characters are feeling and why.
See these prompts and free printable on feelings from Sesame Street for kids age 2-6.
Play a game out of making facial expressions to show different feelings:
“Show me a sad face.”
“What does it look like when you’re angry?”
Then switch it up and you act out feelings while they guess. For older kids, add body language and more complex emotions like shyness, confusion, etc.
You can also use emotion cards and take turns making up stories as to why the people shown feel that way.
2. Help your child see different perspectives
Helping a child be able to view a situation from another’s point of view is an important skill. Being able to put yourself in another’s shoes is the foundation for empathy.
If something happens to another child in a movie, book, or at school, ask your child to think about how they would feel if they were in that person’s place.
If your child experiences a conflict with another person, problem solve by asking them to view the situation from the other person’s side.
3. Lead by example
This is arguably your most important tool for getting through to your kid. Scientific study has shown that kindness is contagious. Those who witness others performing acts of kindness are more likely to do kind things themselves. In this way, kindness spreads like a virus.
So what can you do?
Let your child see you walk the walk. Make an extra effort to incorporate small acts of kindness into each day. Try helping someone who has their hands full, holding the door open, or smiling and making eye contact with a cashier.
Help your child without getting frustrated that they’re interrupting you or slowing you down. Smile and bend down to their level.
Volunteer. I know life is chaotic with kids—I’ve got four of them. Give a small piece of your time. Whatever you can manage. Find something that’s important to you and show up. Your child will ask “where are you going?” Tell them you’re going to help with [insert cause] and why it’s important to you.
I volunteered for an advocacy group for a couple years, regularly showing up to monthly evening meetings and a few weekend events. My kids would ask me about it and got used to the idea that mom spent some time away to help others. They even came to a few events with me.
If you can’t commit to a regular thing, that’s okay. Pick a random Saturday to donate your time somewhere.
The bonus is you’ll feel good too.
Start to involve your kids in these activities to show them it’s important to your family. For example, my daughter and I volunteered at a food bank together. You can even do something as simple as picking up litter.
My youngest son accompanied me to a local march and even made his own sign:
4. Talk about kindness—notice it in others
If someone does something kind for you or your kid, thank them, and take some time to reflect on it later with your child:
“Wasn’t it kind of the server to bring you a balloon? How did that make you feel?”
Noticing kindness gives children an opportunity to be grateful. If kids can recognize how kind acts make them feel, they will be more likely to want to use kind behavior themselves.
Also notice when your child has been kind:
“That was really kind of you to help your brother tie his shoes.”
“When you helped put away the groceries, that made me happy.”
Don’t dwell on every good act (this can backfire), but try to take notice and give recognition when your child is going above and beyond. Also don’t reward kindness with a tangible reward like a treat or toy. To really sink in, you want this behavior to come from internal motivation.
Did you know: A large survey found that kids believe parents care more about achievement and grades than their child’s happiness or whether they are kind.
We’ve got to do a better job as parents showing our kids what really matters to us.
Look for kindness role models to share with your child. These can be famous role models or people from your own life who regularly display kindness. Talk about the qualities of this person and their effect on others. For example, I’ve talked to my kids about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.
Over time, these values will sink in.
My son had his first crush in kindergarten. He was obviously smitten with a particular girl in class and talked about her all the time. I finally asked him what he liked so much about her. He said, “Mommy, she is the kindest person I have ever met.” My heart melted hearing this. I was so pleased he was seeing and valuing kindness in others.
5. Remember, words matter
Don’t underestimate the impact words can have.
Show kindness through your words and tone. Say “I love you.” Tell your child you’re proud of them. If they make a mistake, tell them, “it’s okay.” Recognize when they’re having a hard time. Admit your mistakes.
Set an example. I’m not an outgoing person, but small even small changes can be noticeable. Wave to the neighbors. Smile and tell someone to “have a nice day.”
Speak to your child when they say something hurtful to someone else. Ask them how what they said might make the other person feel. How would your child feel if someone said those words to them?
Remind your kids to use kind words and reflect on both successes and missteps. For example:
“What would have been a kinder way to say that?”
You can discuss how speaking and acting kindly are part of your family values and something your whole family is committed to.
6. Teach that all people deserve kindness
If another child says or does something mean to one of my kids at school, we talk about it and try to look at the situation from different angles. While yes, we should recognize that those actions were unkind, do not fall into the trap of labeling the offender a “bad kid.”
Often, those that act unkind have troubles we may not be aware of. They may not be getting the love and support they need so they are lashing out at others. They may be having personal challenges or difficulties that are clouding their spirit. They may be in desperate need of some kindness.
I share this with my kids. I also emphasize that everyone has bad days sometimes and everyone makes mistakes. This doesn’t make you a bad person.
You can model how to always take the high road.
Show a child how to give kindness even to those who may seem undeserving. If someone snaps at you, do not respond in anger.
Tell your child how kindness is contagious and let them unleash their kindness superpowers.
You also don’t want your kids to think caring and kindness are only reserved for their inner circle of family and friends.
Find an appropriate way to share how others in the world are struggling and deserving of acts of kindness. For example, you could talk about a current event or work together to help others in need from within your community or beyond.
7. Use a kindness curriculum
Did you know: teaching preschoolers a kindness curriculum increased altruism as well as performance measures that predict future success in academics and life.
Ask your child’s school if they include social-emotional learning as part of the curriculum. The Center for Healthy Minds, Random Acts of Kindness, and Life Vest Inside are organizations that offer free resources for educators on teaching kindness.
See this free printable of 40 conversation starters to teach your kid kindness. You’ll discuss different situations and let them share how they might act, while offering gentle guidance. You can also make up your own situations.
Sesame Street’s Season 47 featured lessons on kindness woven throughout the episodes.
At home, read books that include lessons about kindness:
- Be Kind
- Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
- Strictly No Elephants
- Extra Yarn
- Plant a Kiss
See more of the best children’s books about kindness.
Check out these books for parents for more information on raising kind kids:
- The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance
- How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain
- The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
- How to Raise Great Kids in a Generation of Assholes
- toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids
- The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate
8. Practice kindness every day
To strengthen the kindness muscles, give your kids opportunities to practice kindness every day (remember to lead by example!). Once they see the effects and experience the “helper’s high,” they’ll want to do it more and more.
To get started, download a Free 7-Day Kindness Challenge Planner for Families. It will help you work together to plan some acts of kindness and then reflect on how things went.
Sign up here to receive the planner instantly by email:
You can observe Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17), World Kindness Day (November 13), and September 11 National Day of Service with your family.
Get Started Today
When my kids show kindness, it warms my heart like no other. My wish for all of you and your children is to feel kindness in your hearts. Nurture it and help it grow. You’ll be doing your kids and the world a favor.
Please pin this guide to spread kindness far and wide!