Teaching Children to Care
Kindness Calendar:Using a kindness calendar is a great and easy way to incorporate kindness every day. You can download this calendar for free and get started with your acts of kindness. You can do this around the holidays to get kids focused on kindness or just use it any time of the year. All the ideas are easy and can be done with minimal prep work! You can also download these Kindness Cards for your child to give to friends and family.
Model Empathy:Of course you child will not know what empathy is. Webster says that empathy is, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” I’d say that’s a little too wordy for our kids to comprehend but still so important for them to understand through actions. That’s why we need to model empathy for them. A great way to do this is with visuals. Here are some examples of my preferred methods:
Books-Say you are reading Corduroy. Start to talk with your child about Corduroy’s expression when the little girl does not take him home. Prompt questions to ask:
- Why do you think he is sad?
- What would make him happy?
- How would you help Corduroy?
Here are some great books to model empathy:
Pets-Our sweet dog has been the brunt of many empathy lessons. Let’s say my son grabs her tail (sad but true). That’s a perfect time for me to tell him that hurts her and then go over questions again to make him think about how that made the dog feel.
- She made a whimper when you pulled her tail. Do you think that hurt her?
- What are ways you can play that would make your dog happy?
- How can you make her feel better?
Siblings/Play Dates-This is definitely the most real way to model empathy with your child. And without a doubt an opportunity will arise when playing with a sibling or friend. I’ll go with a sharing example because what child does not have trouble with sharing? Or what adult for that matter?! Related: How to Teach a Toddler to Share Ex: Suzi grabs a puzzle out of John’s hand. Johns starts to cry and Suzi just keeps on doing her puzzle. This is a great time to interject and ask Suzi some questions:
- Why is John crying? (You want to see if she even understand what she just did. If she doesn’t explain to her that taking his puzzle made him feel sad.)
- How would you feel if someone took your puzzle?
- What could you have done instead of taking the puzzle?
- Let’s see if John is okay?
Work on Social SkillsWhen you are out and about greet people with a smile, a hello or a wave. This teaches your children how to be social with other people. Saying please and thank you are great ways to be kind and again saying these things does not come naturally to our children. We work on this one a lot. I give you a snack, you say thank you. You want a snack, you say please. It’s the little things but you are setting them up with social skills that will take them throughout their lives.
Model KindnessThis is a huge one for me. I touched on it a little bit earlier. You are their best teacher they will ever have and they are literally watching every move you make! When teaching our children to care we have to model kindness for them. This starts in the home. With the way you talk to your husband, family or friends. Your kids are listening. They are even paying attention to how you talk to the dog and then they’ll mimic that. I know no one is perfect and there will be times you mess up. Lord knows I mess up all the time! But, when I do I tell my son the mistake I made. I might say, “Mommy did not talk nice to you. That was not a good choice. I’m sorry I got frustrated and raised my voice. Will you forgive me?” Letting them know you make mistakes too helps them know that they are not alone.
Talk it OutI’m big on communication. My mom always told me when I was growing up that, “she can’t help me if she doesn’t know what’s wrong.” Since then I’ve pretty much been open with all my feelings (maybe too much at times). But, our children don’t know how to communicate yet. So, ask them questions. Try to understand what is going with them so you can help teach them how to care. Often times something may have happened to them so they are reacting. Then their reaction comes across as unkind. Try to understand they point of view. When you talk it out with them you can figure out what happened in their day to make them react they way they did in certain situations.
Give them Opportunities to be KindThis is by far the most impactful way of teaching children to care. When you give them the opportunity to be kind they reap the rewards of that good feeling. My son and I have been using these Kindness Cards to make being a kind a habit. These printable cards are super easy to use and full of 60 random acts of kindness. We pick one each day and make it a priority to complete it. It’s so neat to see my son really take ownership of it and look for ways to complete his kindness card. So far our favorites have been:
- Say Hi to a Stranger.
- Call a family member to make them smile.
- Give someone a compliments.
- Write a Thank You card to a friend.