It is really easy to get caught up in wanting my child to grow up smart and successful. The truth is, I want my daughter to excel in school and be intelligent. I also want her to grow up to make a living doing something she loves, but there is something else I hope for my daughter that often gets overlooked and is not typically given much attention: I want my daughter to be kind.
I am often amazed at the pressure we, as parents, put on our children. We drive them to be competitive and to be the best. We push them to get on the most competitive teams, get scholarships, and go to great schools. Of course, we want the best for our children, but are we also pushing our children to be kind when they win, speak highly of other children in their classrooms, and root for their friends to be great, as well? As a mother, one of my deepest fears is that my daughter will one day be bullied, or even worse, hurt or bully those around her. That would be devastating.
Teaching empathy seems to be overlooked in our society. Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbound runs the Making Caring Common project, an initiative to teach empathy to children. A new study released by the group showed that about 80% of the youth participating in the study said that their parents were more concerned for their achievement or personal happiness over whether they cared for others. The majority of interviewees also agreed that “my parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
So, why is it important to raise kind children? Kindness, by definition, is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Generous people report happier lives and lower depression rates (source: Paradox of Generosity). Friendly people often have deeper friendships and are able to make friends easily. Considerate people make wonderful friends, bosses, wives, and husbands. Kindness is learned and appreciated by being around other kind people and having the value modeled. It often takes time and practice to become a kind person, requiring that one learns other character traits such as self-control, gratitude, and compassion, as well.
Here are a few ways we can encourage kindness in our children:
- Foster a concern for those who are vulnerable
- Children often have a hard time seeing outside their small circle of known family and friends. They may not understand how to process people of different ages, races, sizes, or those with disabilities. Children may ask these “different” people bold questions and, rather than shy away from talking about these differences (our natural tendency), take the opportunity to share about people’s diversity and differences and model kindness to those people.
- Practice gratitude
- Teaching our children to say please and thank you goes beyond common courtesies. Teaching gratitude also allows our kids to be grateful for people in their lives and learn how to express their thanks. Learning how to compliment others and speak kind words is a beautiful skill that will enrich their lives.
- Teach and model productive ways to channel anger
- Raising a kind kid also means raising a kid who knows how to use self control to refrain from saying mean or cruel things when he gets embarrassed or she gets angry.
- Encourage generosity
- We have two jars at home, one for giving and one for saving. We are trying to teach our daughter early on about the joy of giving. As adults, we struggle with this and are hoping that by sharing this concept with her from a young age, we will inspire her to have a generous heart.
- Model kindness
- My daughter has some incredibly kind friends and many of them share one thing in common: kind moms. As hard as it is, modeling kindness is the most effective way to raise a kind child. Our children look to us and see how we react to things like rush hour, people who are different from us, and those that irritate us. They take cues from us on how to respond to life- with words that heal or words that harm. It is a humbling task for myself, as I endeavor to raise a kind child, but it is behavior that is good for both of us.