When your children grow up, what are the most important traits that you hope to have instilled in them? School teachers will often review a list of the strengths and weaknesses at parent-teacher conferences. One of the many attributes you hope to hear is that your children are kind.
Unfortunately, parents do not receive an “instruction manual” when their children are born. How do you teach your little one the virtues like being kind, patient or loyal? Are these qualities innate in children, or should parents plant a seed and cultivate them?
Teaching begins in the cradle
If you want to teach your children to be kind and loving, you must start at birth. It may be hard to believe, but even babies learn lessons about positive and negative behavior. It is at this age that they are most impressionable.
It is an enormous responsibility to be the primary teacher of morality and character for your children. However, even parents can only go so far. Your children will grow up and be responsible for using the lessons you taught them at some point.
Every parent wants their children to grow up to be good people. However, children remain individuals of their own free will and mistakes will be made. Just because your kids make an occasional bad decision doesn’t mean you are a failure as a parent.
Teaching morality is a parent-child learning curve. One teaching method will not work for all children. The important thing is to be consistent and let your actions be consistent with your words.
We live in a society that is not always stable. However, strong morals and character never go out of style. Here are some ways you can teach your children to be kind.
• Be a good example
Have you ever heard the old saying that you must practice what you preach? The best way to teach your children to be kind is to be their example. Babies learn about the world around them by observing their parents.
When you are tempted to get out of control, remember that little eyes are watching you. If they see that their parents are hateful and vindictive, they will assume that it is the right way to go. A cruel parent can hardly hope to raise children who are considerate and kind.
Let your children see your goodness in word and deed. As their first role models, they will reflect you and learn to be kind. They will mimic your actions long before understanding your explanations.
• Good manners cultivate kindness.
No matter what you hear, many young people say, courtesy is always in style. Physical attraction may get someone’s attention, but it is the good heart that maintains it. As a parent, you will never regret having taught your children good manners and how to treat others.
Once again, you are their role model, and proper manners begin at home. You can’t expect your kids to say “please” and “thank you” if you don’t do it yourself. When people see children, who are respectful and have good manners, it will always reflect well on you.
Be consistent with your home manners and teach the basics of “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” You may need to offer kind reminders when your children forget. When the little ones say kind words, praise them, so it becomes a habit.
• Catch them with good behavior
Children will be children and you will always catch them doing something they shouldn’t. It is part of learning and growth. When you notice that your children are doing something wrong, you attract attention and correct the actions.
On the contrary, it would be helpful if you also tried to surprise your children by showing good behavior. As you teach them to share, wait their turn, and be kind, you will have many opportunities. When you see your kids act appropriately, let them know that you noticed.
Children crave the approval of their parents. When you praise your children for their good behavior, they are more likely to repeat your actions. Make sure you acknowledge good behavior as much or if not more than malicious actions.
Teaching morals to children should be done at a level that they can understand. I would explain a moral dilemma differently to a teenager than to a young child. Try to use words that are easy to understand and support them with age-appropriate examples.
An effective way to teach your children to be loving and kind is by creating different scenarios. It puts children in the other person’s shoes and they learn to be empathetic. For younger children, it is best to use the “what if” scenarios as soon as you see a behavior that needs to be corrected.
Start your “what if” or “how do you think” scenarios for your children to relate to. “What if someone told you that?” or “How do you think the kitten felt when you pulled its tail?” Your lessons in kindness should be extended to pets and other animals.
Give your children a chance to think about what you are asking them and see how they respond. If they say something like “I would feel terrible” or “It would hurt me”, you are on the right track. Once they understand why it is wrong, ask them what they should have done instead.
• Provide opportunities to practice kindness
Children are not born with morals or character. As the practice progresses, give your children a chance to use your lessons on how to be nice. They can show kindness both at home and in the community.
Talk to your children about the importance of giving others your time and resources. Do you volunteer for a civic or religious organization? Many of these organizations invite volunteers to bring age appropriate help for their children. Let your children recognize the uplifting feeling of giving to others in need.
• Acknowledge your mistakes
When children are young, they often see their parents as flawless superheroes. As they get older, they will realize that you are a human being who has flaws and makes mistakes. Never be too big of a person to apologize to your kids if you’ve done something wrong or accidentally hurt their feelings.
You do your children an excellent service when you show them how to recognize their mistakes. They were probably listening when you yelled a few words at a person who interrupted you in traffic. The wrong hand gesture also didn’t win any dad of the year awards.
When kind people do or say the wrong thing, they apologize and make amends. Don’t teach your children to blame someone else. When you make a mistake, admit it and your kids will respect you more.
• Who influences your child?
You are not only an influence on your children, but also the world around them. Do you notice what they see on television, online, or in video games? Children are deeply affected by technology and the things they see and hear in the media.
Are your favorite shows and video games fun and uplifting, or are they full of rawness and violence? Even many of today’s cartoons are not suitable for children to see. More, too much time in technology limits your children of actual social interaction.
Do you know who your kids hang out with at school? If you notice rude behavior from your kids that was usually not there, they likely have an outside influence. Encourage your children to be friends with other children who are kind and respectful.
• Kindness at story time
What little kids don’t like a good story? Most fairy tales and other classic children’s stories are entertaining and often teach lessons on morality. They learn from some of their favorite storybook characters that being nice is the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, good doesn’t always triumph over evil immediately in the real world. However, there is great power in love and kindness that helps people cope. It begins with learning as a child how to treat other people.
• Practice friendly conversation
Remember how your parents always told you that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? It’s valuable advice when it comes to polite conversation. Avoid gossip and other unpleasant topics when your children are listening.
If your children hear you speak ill of others, they will assume it is normal. How do your children speak to each other? While it is a given that siblings will tease each other and have a bit of a rivalry, it creates limits for them.
Let your children know that you will not tolerate hate speech or name calling. Instead, teach them how to get along in the most peaceful way possible. If they have an occasional dispute, teach them the thoughtful way to resolve it.
Your most important job and reward as a parent is raising children who know how to be loving and kind. Even in the best families, children often need to be redirected to the right path. When they grow up, they will remember your lessons to teach their offspring.