Last year we marked the day with a blog about how kindness is actually physically and mentally good for us: how it improves our health and is central to who we are. Sometimes it may feel like that’s far from the truth, but it’s important we remember that kindness is key. World Kindness Day reminds us why kindness is important: it’s rewarding, it’s a conscious act, and it’s necessary at home, school or work.
Kindness for Kids
As adults, we understand these central points on why kindness is crucial, but in our blog this year we’re going to focus on why it’s important for our kids to learn. Kids face a lot of challenges as they grow up: between challenging dynamics at school, dealing with the pressures of online social interactions, pressures to conform, and learning about themselves. And they’re often looking for tools to help them navigate these tricky situations. What’s the most important tool of all? Kindness.
To teach kids about kindness, we need to put it into a form they can understand. The creator of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a popular kids show), Angela C. Santomero, says ‘Kindness is about "seeing with your heart"’. This definition is an easy one for kids to grasp. It means viewing the world and those around you with care and compassion for others. Kindness for kids is also about highlighting the different forms kindness takes - empathy, compassion, consideration for others, understanding, and so on. Each of these presents an opportunity to help your children understand kindness and what it means.
Kindness for Kids Starts at Home
So how do you really teach kindness to your kids? Like so many other things, it can start at home, within your family. Make it a part of your regular family life and be sure to demonstrate kindness on a daily basis. Communicate it to them routinely, even before they’re old enough to demonstrate it themselves. For a toddler who is too young to demonstrate kindness, you can help them identify it and the feeling of empathy that goes hand in hand with it. If your 2-year-old cries out when their older sibling trips and falls, you can explain to them that they’re feeling for their sibling because they hurt themselves.
With older children you can have conversations about what kindness means and what it looks like. Use the Golden Rule as a way to communicate this, because it’s easy to understand: treat others the way you wish to be treated. When it seems like that concept is sticking, you can introduce the platinum rule: treat others the way that’s best for them, even if that’s different than what’s best for you. This concept is a bit trickier but can help older kids understand the concept of empathy and consideration for others. Your 5-year-old might like popsicles when they’re sick. Ask them to consider what their older sibling could want when they’re feeling under the weather.
Kindness Activities for Kids – Imaginative Play
Pretend play presents great opportunities for kids to practice empathy and explore what it’s like to be someone else. Using their imagination is a powerful way to help them put themselves in the shoes of others. You can use your kids’ toys to help demonstrate how they can use their imagination in this way. If your child’s favourite doll falls off the shelf, you can ask your child how they could help her head feel better. As they get older, you can look beyond toys or games to plant these imaginary questions and instead look to real world examples. This can look like pointing out situations you see while out with your kids and asking them the “what would it feel like?” question.
When kids start to look at the world this way it eventually becomes second nature. They won’t need a probing question to consider that their fellow classmate who forgot his lunch is probably hungry, and they can share with him.
Acts of Kindness for Kids
As adults we know what acts of kindness look like, and we know that they’re important in feeling good and giving our mental health a boost. With children it helps to demonstrate acts of kindness so they understand what it looks like in action. Thankfully, kids like to copy us! Even from a young age they’re eager to do what we’re doing. Use this to your advantage. If your child’s sibling is not feeling well, you can demonstrate to your younger child that you can offer a hug to help make them feel better. When you’re out at the grocery store, you can show them how they can help others by reaching tall shelves or stooping low for another customer.
Lastly, demonstrate to your kids how they can be kind to themselves too. Illustrate this for them by being kind to yourself. Instead of being hard on yourself after making a mistake, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and make sure they’re with you when you give yourself this grace. Practice self-care for yourself and use this habit to demonstrate to them how acts of kindness are important for us, too!