Kindness matters. The way we treat others has a direct impact on how others treat us, and, unsurprisingly, the way we treat our kids directly affects the way our kids respond to us and how much joy we find in being a parent. Kindness is something many of us strive to embody in our daily lives, and it’s absolutely something we want to share with our kids. But how do we teach our kids to be kind?
There are all sorts of resources available for teaching kindness and promoting communities of kindness, but raising kind humans has very little to do with our child’s willingness to apologize on command or whether they know about invisible buckets and how to fill them. At the family level, we need to turn our attention from teaching kindness to raising in kindness.
In honor of World Kindness Day (November 13), here are a few suggestions for doing just that.
Meet your child with kindness and compassion
Hitting children is not kind. Timeouts are not kind. Shaming children is not kind. If we want to raise our children in kindness, we need to be kind in our approach to discipline, even when we feel deeply triggered and challenged. We need to take a close look at what’s triggering us and do the work of dismantling our limiting beliefs so that we can keep our cool. When we meet our most challenging moments as parents calmly and compassionately, we not only model kindness for our children, we model self-regulation, too.
Never underestimate how much children learn from what we model for them. Children learn more from what they see us doing than they do from the lessons we try to teach them.
Do your best to bring kindness to the world
It makes sense, then, that if you want your child to be a kind presence in the world, you need to work to bring more kindness to the world yourself. Meditation is a powerful tool for compassionate living, whether you are working on reining in your road rage or handling confrontations in a peaceful way. Meditation helps us learn to slow down recognize our thoughts and reactive patterns, and if you can do that, you can begin to change them.
When you change your thought patterns and slow your reactions, you create space for yourself to connect with your child when they’re having a tough time. It’s through this connection that we can best help our children develop empathy and the skills they need to spread compassion to others.
Help your child develop empathy
When our children hurt others, through their words or actions, our instinct is to make it right. We want so badly for them to be kind that we insist they apologize, often before they are ready. If you want your child to act with compassion and apologize with sincerity, take a step back from insisting on apologies. Encourage them to make things right, but start by talking to your child about what just happened. Connect with them first, then help them connect with the person they hurt.
When you do this, keep calm and be factual. Point out the tears. Point out the actions that caused the tears. Ask them what they think the other person’s feeling. Give them a few minutes to process their own emotions, then encourage them to check on the other person. Check on, not apologize. You can even offer them words they can use, like, “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”
If they don’t speak up, model it for them instead of insisting. Ask the questions yourself. Model the process with your child at your side. It will be easier for them the next time.
When we adjust our expectations about apologizing, amazing things happen. More often than you’d imagine, the apologies come naturally, even if they don’t come immediately.
Acknowledge their acts of kindness
When your child absorbs these skills and starts putting them into practice, acknowledge that and express your gratitude. When you say, “Aiden, I noticed that you checked on your sister when she fell. That was so kind! Thank you,” your child will feel validated and uplifted. Plus, it sends the message that kindness matters and is valued.
Remember, your child knows how to be kind. They may need help realizing that the kindness in their hearts matters to the people around them, and they may need you to guide them in making it visible. Modeling kindness and appreciating the kindness that lives inside of them is the best way to do just that.
Kindness really does matter
So here’s my challenge to you for World Kindness Day. Be deliberate, not random, and don’t overlook yourself first. What does the kid inside you need you to do for them so you can show up in the world with a little more kindness? Maybe you need to indulge yourself in a night out with friends or a yoga class, or maybe you need to be more intentional about setting boundaries and asking for help so you feel less overwhelmed and more compassionate.
When it comes to your child, make a plan to do something you know would lift them up and bring them joy. Because in order to feel kind towards others, we need to feel like we matter. It doesn’t have to be a surprise, either. Talking to your child about what they want and involving them in making the plan is powerful because it shows them that their voice matters and helps them feel appreciated.
Let’s spread some kindness!
In honor of World Kindness Day, I am offering a free year’s membership in Compass Rose, Partnered Path’s community of support guidance and healing for parents of Highly Sensitive Children. This is an amazing opportunity! Compass Rose not only provides parents with support when they face challenges with their HSCs, it’s a community of nourishment.
To enter, comment on this facebook post with the two acts of kindness you are planning (one for yourself, and one for your family), and tag two friends you think might be interested in the contest. Make sure you like the post and our fb page, and sign up for the Compass Rose VIP waitlist. That’s it! I’ll announce the winner on November 14th.
If this post resonates with you, check out my free cheatsheet, Five Phrases that Will Change How You Relate to Your Child. Enter your email address below to claim your copy.