Kindness: friendly, generous, considerate and a concern for others. Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of others. Image a world in which every child has these characteristics. Learning about being kind begins in the early years, from birth through adulthood. Children with kindness skills become more tolerant and accepting of others. It is a skill often taught at home. Children mimic what they see others model. If actions involve negative behavior, that is what children learn. Positive modeling, in which the difference between right and wrong is taught, how you treat one another and how you treat yourself, is the direction to take. How you treat yourself and others becomes the foundation of most decision making: a lifetime skill that everyone needs.
Kindness is based on how you see yourself, your own ethics, values and beliefs. It may mean that you say “no” to some requests while others are given a resounding “yes.” Blending kindness with understanding creates empathy. All human beings have the innate skill to be kind and develop empathy as they get older. Families can help their children develop kindness by talking about what is the right thing to do, through having discussions, using examples from their own childhood and problem-solving current issues children may be experiencing.
Asking questions about what your child might do before jumping in with your own expectations helps your child to foster their own thinking systems. This exercise develops their ability to make decisions that are kind to children and others. Having guidelines and boundaries concerning how others are treated helps give children the support they need to make good decisions. By having open discussions, taking on chores at home and doing things to help other people in your family or neighborhood, one develops kindness. Volunteering at a food bank, bringing refreshments to church or visiting a nursing home are great activities that teach the basic skills of kindness and empathy.
You can weave examples of acts of kindness into your child’s daily routine. Young children, aged 2-4, normally can’t articulate kindness; however, they are better at showing it through body language or indirect action. Young children often need a caring adult to verbalize what they are doing, whereas an older child, aged 4-6, begins to recognize when a friend is sad and can ask how they can make the child feel better. This type of behavior should be supported by the adults in the child’s life. Ask your child what acts of kindness of empathy they have seen at school, in an afterschool program or in the neighborhood. Discuss why your child thought it was a kind act and how they might return the kindness or demonstrate it to others. At home keep a “kindness” chart, on which each family member reflects on another member’s kindness and why they thought it was true. Label kind acts when you see them occurring in or outside of your home. In our world, where not everyone is kind to one another, know you and your family can make a difference. Happy Holidays from my family to yours.
Anne E. Mead, Ed. D., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.