As a pediatrician, part of my job is educating and empowering young parents.... that also means giving parents the confidence to raise a future generation. If you just read that title, chances are it means something different to each of us. Kindness can encompass feelings of compassion, sympathy, generosity, even justice, to name a few. But every answer involves an underlying consideration for others, rather than simply acting out of self-interest. Kindness is going to be demonstrated in different ways depending on the age of your child, but the important thing is nurturing the trait from early on, focusing on the considerate habits of daily life, and reflecting on what they mean.
At its core, teaching kindness starts with teaching empathy and for our children, that can be a hard concept to grasp but is actually something hardwired in us from birth. Intuitively feeling what others feel is part of understanding others. Compassion is acting on that understanding and beginning to start the implementation of treating others the way you want to be treated.
Depending on the age of the child, this might mean we have to do a little bit of work as the parents to inspire their imagination. Imagination helps drive the child to think abstractly such as stepping into someone's shoes. Pretend play begins after 12 months of age and is a great way to begin this abstract thinking. As a parent, avoid voicing your opinion on a situation and let your child think through it. For example: “Oh no! Your doll bumped her head! How does she feel? What should we do for her?”
One of the best ways to teach kindness is discipline but specifically, positive discipline. That means develop a positive vibe around the practice of kindness rather than scolding our kids excessively when they make inevitable mistakes. When you catch your kids behaving well, doing what you asked, or doing something kind without you asking, then make sure to sing their praise to them! It really does reinforce the behavior. Giving children encouragement ties in with blog posts I did a few months ago on mindful parenting. This isn’t just blind encouragement and telling your children they’re always the best. That’s not helpful, especially in this parenting marathon. However, research shows that by focusing on your child’s positive behaviors, they will more likely try again to achieve those similar responses from you.
Most importantly, as parents, we know we must model kindness everywhere we go. As a parent to a toddler, that’s difficult, I know. Trust me, but try your best to keep a level head and trusting empathy over whatever society ideals we think.” Children tend to copy and mirror the behavior of others at a young age. Perhaps you notice your child will cry more about a small scrape if you or others around him/her make a big deal out of it. Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes; holding open a door for a stranger, modeling ‘please and thank you’ words, limiting anger or scolding rants but instead emphasizing positive actions your child does. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself as a parent (self-care) to show your child self-love as a form of kindness- that could be prioritizing sleep, a monthly massage, therapeutic baking, weekly dates with your significant other, movie night in, or even game nights!