We are mirrors for our kids: When children observe your examples of kindness, they'll know where to begin. One day, I mentioned that I had a tummy ache, and my 8-year-old dashed up the stairs to run a bath, turn down my bed, and lay out my favorite nightie. You know who had treated her tummy aches in just such a way.
Kindness is a quality that isn't often rewarded in our schools, so we must make a strong effort to acknowledge it at home. Kids are naturally empathetic from an early age: As newborns, they cry when they hear another baby crying; they offer their favorite doll to the friend who has scraped his knee. We tend to expect our young children to grow out of this compassion and become self-absorbed. "Oh it's the terrible twos," we say. "Kids just can't share at this age." What if we shifted our expectations and saw our kids as truly caring beings? Boys in particular are often rewarded for being clever or assertive, but not often for showing compassion.
A busy mother I know is making an effort to acknowledge her young son's kindness. She recalls, "I went with the second grade on the bus to the zoo last fall, and Michael sat next to a classmate who uses a wheelchair and is mentally impaired. I was amazed at how helpful and considerate he was, and I was quick to compliment him when we got home."
Kindness, empathy, compassion, and love grow from appreciation and respect, and in turn create more of both. Instead of comparing kids and fostering competition--"You have the best voice in the choir"--it would help to applaud their thoughtfulness. For example, you could say, "I liked the way you complimented Amy's painting."
In an achievement-oriented culture, we may focus more on grades and sports victories than on values of the heart. Take the time to acknowledge kind actions as having true worth.
We can weave kindness into our everyday lives, for example, by creating a "kindness board" and posting it on the fridge. Each time a family member does something kind, he or she can write it on the board when it's acknowledged.
Try These Random Acts of Kindness
Ask your kids to come up with their own list of everyday opportunities to show kindness. Some ideas to get them started:
-Smile at the bus driver.
-Compliment at least one person a day.
-Hold the door for the person behind you when you come in from recess.
-Pass on to someone else a book you loved.
-Offer to walk a neighbor's dog.
-Help someone find something he or she has lost.
-Recycle magazines to the local library.
-Help a younger sibling with homework.
-Sit with the kid who usually sits alone on the bus.
-If kids are speaking unkindly about someone, take a stand against it.
-Bake an extra batch of cookies and leave them on a neighbor's doorstep.
-Hug somebody who needs it.
Remind your children they can make a difference each day. They can touch other people's lives through simple efforts: a smile, a nod, a shared laugh, a kind word, a whispered prayer.