9 Ways to Teach Your Kids Kindness

How You Can Teach Kids to Be Kind to Others (and Why You Should)

Boys sharing headphones and cell phone on sofa
Getty Images/JGI/Jamie Grill

“Can you believe what she’s wearing?” “Don’t you think he’s fat?” “Why would anyone want to be friends with her?” “He’s ugly.”

Comments like these -- or worse -- are not uncommon among children, or even with adults. We now live in an age where photos and posts online can garner nearly instant and anonymous comments from total strangers and acquaintances alike. These reactions can be rude or vicious.

It is more important than ever that parents teach children to be nice to others.

Why We Need More Kindness

Today, judging others seems to be an activity practiced by too many people. It’s all too easy to post comments about other people, whether they’re celebrities or ordinary, everyday citizens. Unkindness isn't new; we've been doing it since ancient times. But today the ease, speed, and anonymity with which people can pass judgments on others are unprecedented. Kids who are at the forefront of tech and social networking are learning from what they see around them.

Children also tend not to be able to see the big picture. Because young children usually focus on the now and don’t think too far ahead, they may not realize the full effects of what behaviors like meanness, exclusion, or bullying can have on other kids. And kids are naturally self-centered, which means that they aren’t always able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or make a conscious effort to think about how someone else might feel.

That does not mean, however, that kids are naturally unkind. In fact, kids are hard-wired to have empathy for others and want to help out. Parents, caregivers, teachers and other adults can take advantage of these natural instincts and encourage kids to think about other people’s feelings before they act, and teach them how to practice kindness in their everyday lives.

9 Ways Parents Can Encourage Kindness in Kids

To nurture kindness in kids, try incorporating some of these practices into your daily routines.

1. Do Unto Others

Young children need reminders about trying to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Ask your child to try to remember to think before saying something about someone and to take the time to consider how she might feel if someone said it to her. How would she feel if she found out that someone was making fun of her dress or criticizing her for not doing a math problem fast enough? Would she want someone to praise her for trying or to put her down for not doing something right? Would she want someone to compliment her on something she does or would she want someone to make fun of her? Teaching empathy is a key part of teaching kids kindness.

2. If You Cannot Say Something Nice…

The adage about saying nothing at all if you don’t have something nice to say about someone is a good one to teach kids. Teach your child to get into the habit of saying only positive things -- the kind of things that will make someone feel good rather than sad.

Teach him to hold his tongue when he has a negative opinion about something. For example, if his friend asks him whether he likes a drawing he did, and he didn’t like it, he can practice finding something positive about it. “I liked the colors you used,” or “You made a nice, big house” or something similar is good. He should not mention what he did not like about it. Another example: If a classmate isn't very good at sports, your child can offer encouragement and praise the classmate for trying.

3. Kind Words and Smiles

It’s also a good idea to get kids into the habit of being friendly and saying something nice to say to someone.(That said, a child should know the basics of how to protect herself from stranger and acquaintance danger and should know what to do if she ever gets lost.) Be a good role model and try to be nice to people you interact with throughout the day. Let your child see you tell the checkout person at the supermarket to have a nice day, thank a waiter for serving you, or compliment a neighbor on the hard work she did in her garden. Be the behavior you want to see in your child.

4. Thank You, Please, and More

Teaching good manners, such as being respectful to others, greeting people properly, and speaking to people in a nice way, is also an important part of raising a kind child. And since you live with your children, you’ll reap the benefits of having pleasant and nice individuals growing up in your home.

5. Guarding Against Spoiling

Kind children are also children who are charitable, who know that mom and dad cannot buy everything they want for them (and understand why they should not get everything they want), and are patient, thankful, and have self-control. If you want to teach kids kindness, make sure you don't spoil your kids.

6. Bullying and Cyberbullying

Be very aware of the dangers of cyberbullying, both by being vigilant about what your child sees and reads online as well as by keeping close tabs on what he is writing and sharing. Learn about bullying, such as how to spot signs of bullying and what to do to prevent and stop bullying.

7. Be Nice to Your Child

Even when you’re tired and frustrated -- especially when you’re tired and frustrated -- try to speak in a kind way to your child. Discipline with love, support her when she is down, and be kind.

8. Kindness Is Contagious

Similarly, kids who may not naturally be inclined to bullying others or being mean may join in when others are doing it. If your child can set an example of kindness, it too may spread to her social group.

9. Being Kind Makes Kids Feel Good

When you encourage kindness in your child, he will feel better not only about the world he lives in but about himself. That’s the thing about raising a good child who is kind: not only will kindness lift up your child and the others around him, it will help him grow to be a happy and loving person.

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