I have a fantasy sometimes about my kids. That they’ll have breakfast quietly, seated the entire time at the dinner table and try new food which I lovingly give to them. Then they say, ‘Thanks mum, you’re amazing!’ They’ll make their own healthy lunch and then open the door for each other as they head outside for the day. Following this we’ll all laugh heartily as we drive on our merry way to school and my kids will say encouraging things to each other the entire way.
Unfortunately, this is not always my reality. I get incredible moments where I feel so proud of how they behave, however, most of the time I’m the trainer – breaking in my wild colts, hoping that one day all my hard work will come together and they will consistently be thoughtful and kind. KIND. That word cannot be underrated.
The focus for a lot of parents USED to be about raising happy, successful kids. However, I think most of us now agree that our children are happier when they are kind and compassionate. It means they’ll have good relationships (because kind people are usually empathetic), have fewer negative emotions and a healthy self-esteem.
From my experience with raising three children, I don’t believe that kindness is something that is just learnt from the parents. It comes naturally for some kids and it takes more work in encouraging kindness from others. However, I believe over time we can encourage our little ones to develop compassionate hearts. And it’s never too late to start.
Here are 4 practical ways that I think can help.
4 tips to raise kind kids
1. Encourage ‘kindness’ above all else
I think an important change that’s happened in our household is the focus has shifted from having skilled successful children, to ‘kind’ kids. So my language with them has changed. I now often use the word ‘kind’ in my everyday conversations with them.
Instead of saying to them: ‘The most important thing is that you’re happy,’ I now say, ‘The most important thing is that you’re kind.’
Other things I now say are:
‘Let’s be kind to each other’
‘You are so kind Charlie’
‘I’m so happy you shared your toys with that little girl Michelle. That was very kind’.
So being kind is very much our focus now. This includes making sure the kids honour their commitments rather than letting others down. Because that is the ‘kind’ thing to do. For example, when my son wanted to quit Little Nippers we talked about him finishing the season because he had joined with a friend and that friend relied on him each week for support.
2. Set the example
I know this might sound like a cliché, but when I’ve noticed my kids being unkind to others, I’ve had to reflect back on how I’ve treated my kids and others. For example, I was raised in the country and if we hurt our selves growing up, we’d have to pick ourselves back up and get on with it. So when my two eldest kids were little and hurt themselves I’d do the same. There wasn’t much room for crying and cuddling and making sure they were ok. (Sounds horrible I know!!) I’ve now turned this around and if my children hurt themselves, I take the time to make sure they’re ok and give them a cuddle. And the interesting thing is, I can honestly see them becoming more caring with others.
The point is, we set the example. The way we talk about others, behave toward others and give of ourselves. Our kids are always watching. So we need to set the example.
3. Insist on kindness and respect in all family interactions.
We now have a few family rules in our house. Number One is ‘Speak kindly to each other’.
The name calling and unkindness got a bit out of hand for a while in our household and I decided it was time to introduce a set of family rules. We placed it in the kitchen for everyone to see and refer back to it on a regular basis. If my kids speak unkindly to each other I now ask for a ‘redo’. “Can you say that in a kinder way?” Then if they break that rule after giving them a chance to correct their interaction, we come up with a consequence and follow it through.
Part of the ‘speak kindly to each other’ is not ever allowing my children to speak disrespectfully to me. One of my children went through an interesting time when she started telling me I’m ‘a stupid lady!’ I think I was a bit shock for a few months as the talking back became worse. Then one day I decided to toughen up and put down a strong but healthy boundary.
We also use the Box of Calm Down to reinforce kindness and compassion.
When my kids moved to a new school last year, there were a few kids who went out of their way to make them feel welcome. And I know it was the parents who encouraged this. They encouraged empathy with their children about what it was like to be the new kid. And I think this is something we all need to do regularly with our kids. Encourage them to think of others, not just in our small circle of friends.
I heard of a great game recently which was called “Guess the Feeling.” Basically, you take your kids to a park or a shopping mall and people watch. Find someone showing an extreme emotion – such as excitement, sadness or anger. Ask your child, “What do you think they’re feeling?” and ask them to make up a story about what may be happening.
This is meant to help children identify non-verbal clues as to how others feel and helps them put meaning behind emotions.
Speaking kindly and being kind can be a long journey, however, I really believe nearly every child has the ability to be kind if they are shown the way. In the dictionary ‘kindness’ is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. If my children end up possessing these qualities, then I know my job is done. I hope the 4 tips above help and I’d love to know of any other ideas you might have.