Discussing ways to be kind is an ongoing project in our house. How can we play with kindness? What does it mean to treat another with kindness? These are complicated concepts for adults, let alone children, and it takes consistency and modeling to break these ideas down for young children.
Most parents will tell you they want to raise their children to be kind, generous, and considerate of others; however, if you ask a parent how they go about teaching kindness you will likely be met with I'm not sure what we've done. How we teach kindness is a lot less clear to parents than why we teach it. Thinking about my own parenting choices, I can say that there is a consistent effort to reinforce the importance of saying please and thank you whether at home, at the grocery store check out, or saying goodbye to our teachers each day. We use stories to discuss the feelings of others and even take advantage of our family dog to help teach empathy and consideration for others. Like many areas of parenting, how do you know when you are doing enough or utilizing the right strategies to reach your goal?
Research tells us that abstract thinking does not begin to develop until about the age of five or six; however, we can help teach abstract concepts, such as kindness, to a young child by modeling the behavior(s) and making the notion more concrete with tangible examples. In thinking about kindness we are looking at fostering friendly, generous, and considerate character traits. Here are a few ways to break these lessons down further:
#1. Being friendly is probably one of the most common character traits explored with young children. How often to do we remind our children to "be a good friend" when playing with siblings or other children? To make this concept more concrete with your toddler consider the skills necessary to be a friend - good manners, sharing, and being inclusive to name a few. You can then find time to discuss, model, and reinforce these individual skills over time. As with any life-long skill, it is important to be consistent. Also, try recognizing the good with "caught you being good" rewards where you call out friendly behavior in various social situations.
#2. Young children are just learning how to understand the feelings of others and to see outside their own needs; therefore, when building an understanding of generosity it makes sense to start with a focus on sharing. Toddlers place tremendous value on personal items, which makes talking about toys an excellent place to start. Find occasion to talk about donating gently used toys or passing to others at times of the year when presents are given.
#3. Teaching our children how to be considerate requires an emphasis on good listening skills and modeling the language necessary to express one's feelings. Children's literature is a great way to help your child recognize feelings and open a conversation about the words used to describe an emotion or situation. Explore social situations such as including new friends in an activity or what it mean to respond when someone says they do not want to play a particular game. Discussing, and even role-playing, how to listen and respect one another will go a long way when our children navigate the actual situation.
Ultimately it is finding your own means for holding an ongoing conversation about kindness. Instilling a meaningful understanding of kindness, one that extends year-round (and not just during the holidays), is a constant work in progress.
*A version of this post was shared as part of the #KinderByTheChild Project...
an ongoing series of personal stories taking a look at how we teach our children
about kindness and why as parents we see the value in leading a life
full of generosity and consideration.*
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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