How to Instill Kindness in Kids

Harvard study indicates how to making kindness a priority over success


Most parents and educators would agree that instilling kindness in kids is of utmost importance. Some would even say it is their top priority, according to a team of Harvard researchers. In fact, 96% of parents say that moral character is “very important if not essential.” But children are getting a different message.

According to the Making Caring Common project, 81% of middle school and high school kids in the United States say that high achievement and personal happiness are more important than caring for other people.

What’s more, these students are three times more likely to agree with this statement than not: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I am a caring community member.”

And not caring for other people can have dire consequences. When kids do not prioritize kindness and caring over personal success, they are at a greater risk for harmful behaviors.  For instance, half of high school students admit to cheating on a test and 75% admit to copying someone’s homework. Meanwhile, nearly 30% of middle and high school students report being bullied; and more than half of girls in grades 7-12 report at least one episode of sexual harassment at school.

But it does not have to be this way. The authors of the Harvard study make suggestions on ways in which parents and educators can instill kindness in kids. These include giving kids opportunities to be kind, being good role models, and helping kids manage destructive feelings.

When you are working with your kids to instill kindness, the messages you want to send include:

“Watch for needs in others.” Encourage kids to observe people and note their needs. For instance, ask your child to think about kids who do not have anyone to sit with at lunch. Or, they might notice a student on crutches who needs a little extra help getting to class.

The key is to get students to look outside of their own needs to where they can help others.

“Offer to be a friend.” Sometimes the best way to be kind is to offer to be a friend to someone who appears to be lonely or isolated. Remind your kids that they do not need to “fix” things for people or “make them happy.” Their only role is to offer to be a friend in simple, practical ways. One way to do that is to include an ostracized student at lunch or a school project. Another way, is to find a common interest and do something together.

“Be sincere.” There should be no strings attached when your child does something for someone else. In other words, they should not expect anything in return. Too many times, kids think if “I do something for you, you should do something for me in return.” That is a negotiation and not what true kindness is about. Truly kind people do things to help others while expecting nothing in return.

“Practice humility.” Remind your kids that they need to be humble when they are doing things for others.

While it is natural for your child to feel good about what he does for others, he should avoid boasting or bragging about the things he does. In fact, you may want to encourage your child to practice doing kind things anonymously, especially if he struggles with feeling boastful.

Overall, teaching kindness, empathy and respect can go a long way not only in improving school climate and preventing bullying, but also in making the world a better place. The next time your child comes home from school, instead of asking if she got an A on her paper, ask her who she was kind to today. This way, you are showing your kids that being kind to others is more important than the grade she got on her English paper.

Continue Reading