In an America where one of today’s slogans is “Make America kind again”, the virtue of kindness is forefront in many of our minds. And this virtue, kindness, like many others, not only needs to be modeled for our children but sometimes explicitly taught, like many other skills that children are working on perfecting. And then children need to be allowed to practice, and to practice again, and again, so that these skills to become ingrained and habitual. If we could all pick a virtue to practice, and practice again, our world would become a better place.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” - Desmond Tutu
Eight Ways to Teach Kindness to Toddlers and Preschoolers
By: “Word of Mom” blogger Tabitha Studer
With two young kids, it seems that we are always busy trying to balance marriage, parenthood, work and a never-clean home. Among the hectic and busy life that comes with parenthood, our family has, for the past five years, stuck to a commitment to complete an act of kindness each month of the year. What we have found is that grounding our family life in kindness has kept gratitude and happiness at the forefront of our minds and of our relationships with one another.
There are many suggestions for teaching kindness to older kids, but not as many for very young children. To encourage other young families who wish to help foster kind and caring behavior, here are eight suggestions for teaching kindness to toddlers and preschoolers.
Practice manners. The first baby sign language words both our children learned were “please” and “thank you”. We remind our kids even before they can speak, that using manners is commonplace and expected. Our kids have brightened the day for countless cashiers and restaurant servers by signing “thank you” to them before they could even speak.
Introduce empathy. It is never too early into help guide our children into recognizing other people’s feelings. We start this lesson through playtime with their siblings and friends. Our rule simply goes that if their playmate starts to cry or says “no” while playing, our kids should immediately stop what they are doing and ask “Are you okay?” We remind them that we first check to see if they are okay before resuming playtime – and if not, they should get help.
Assist in our works of kindness. Our kids may not be old enough to participate entirely when our charity opportunities arise during the year; however, they are always aware of our plans and eager to help with tasks to prepare for the main event. Our toddler and preschooler help bake cookies for the local fire department, choose toys for our annual Adopt-A-Family through the Salvation Army and raise money at Halloween with Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.
Encourage waving and smiling. Sometimes a smile and a wave can be the difference in a bad day. We encourage our kids to smile and wave to people around us, like our neighbors, the garbage man, and the grocery bagger. Having a friendly face toward others is a small but impactful way to be kind.
Teach conversation prompts. In our house, we practice saying phrases during particular situations that will help our kids feel confident while also being kind and caring towards others. We teach our kids to ask “How is your day?” after saying hello to someone and “Have a great day” after saying goodbye. We also practice asking things like “How is your dinner?” and mentioning “I am glad to see you.” These simple phrases are mini-kindness boosts while speaking to others.
Practice before doing. Many times in public places, children can unfortunately be the root of frustration for other people. Although not necessarily fair, it is a truth, so we attempt to combat this unpleasantness by simply practicing appropriate behavior before doing new things in public. We have set up our own trial runs at home for the airport security line and appropriate knocking and response for trick-or-treat night. The benefits have been two-fold as our kids’ worries about a new situation have been greatly subdued by getting a chance to experience it first at home, but also for the people we have come into contact with during the real thing.
Approach frustration with patience. When we come upon a potentially frustrating situation, we speak aloud to our kids about what might be the reason for the circumstance and how we might be able to help. For example, if we come up to construction on the road where we have to sit and wait unexpectedly, I’ll say something like “Looks like they are working hard on the road to keep us safe, huh?” I explain that we need to wait our turn so that everyone can be careful while others work hard for, ultimately, our benefit. Sometimes patience and kindness are the same exact thing.
Be the example. No matter what you practice and teach your kids, it will rarely be as strong as the example that you show them each day in your own actions. If you speak kindly about others in your home and have patience in difficult situations, you will see your child mimic the same behavior and words in their own actions. Our kids notice when they see someone being kind to a stranger, and I have seen their smiles and manners literally change the frown on a person’s face to a surprised smile.
Our belief is that kindness and patience should be at the base of our family’s foundation, as it’s no secret that kindness is a boomerang. It’s our hope that through our dedication to being kind as a family, it will create a ripple effect in our relationships and interactions with each other and to those around us – a very direct way to take ownership for the way we experience life.