We have so much going on in our world today that we have to wonder whether we are forgetting the importance of the basic principles such as kindness and compassion.
Sometimes, children can be mean. Yes, they can be very mean. This is not cute, this is not a sign of maturity, and this is not acceptable. I want to be blunt about this, because when we don’t encourage kindness and compassion in children, we have to remember that we are creating teens and adults that will lack kindness and compassion as well.
The key to raising a child who demonstrates kindness and compassion is to begin by training our minds to notice kindness and compassion. Yes, the minds of us as parents. When we notice it, we can praise it. This encourages more of the same behavior. Kindness and compassion can seem like abstract values to children, so when we point out clear instances of kindness and compassion they gain a better understanding of what these virtues look like in reality.
Let’s use a basic example of praising behaviors to understand why we want to recognize and praise kindness and compassion. Imagine you have a baby that is about to start walking for the first time. When they take these first few steps, we fill them with praise, hugs, kisses, and smiles. The baby starts to realize they are doing something that gets a pretty awesome reaction and is followed by all sorts of goodness. This encourages them to continue to build on this behavior. We continue to give them this attention until walking becomes a normal behavior and they see and feel the benefits. So how does this relate to kindness and compassion? If when a child is kind and compassionate towards others they are praised, they are more likely to continue the behavior…even when praise is no longer always there.
Children are generally very good receivers of kindness and compassion. They tend to get it from their parents and caregivers all the time. When we help them become givers of kindness and compassion we escalate their feelings of happiness, improve their well-being, reduce instances of bullying in our schools and communities, and enrich relationships. These basic virtues are extremely powerful, not only to the receivers, but to the givers.
So how can we notice kindness and compassion? Help children become conscious of what they are doing. For example, if your child is picking up the toys, rather than just saying “thank you”, say “thank you for picking up the toys.” If big sister, runs to comfort little brother when he takes a tumble highlight the fact that she ran to him to comfort him.
When actions contribute to the welfare of others, point it out. “You said thanks for having me over so that your friend knows that you appreciate them inviting you.”
You can also simply add a descriptive tag to an action in progress such as, ‘that was kind,’ ‘that was helpful, ‘that was thoughtful.’ When we do this, we are yet again moving from the abstract to the concrete. We are teaching our children what these qualities look, feel and sounds like.
By noticing compassion and kindness we are making our children more conscious. As parents, we need to model acts of kindness for our children to see. When we model it, and encourage and notice it within our children, we will see the behaviors increase. Remember, that we tend to get more of what we focus on. Focus on the bad behavior, the behavior spikes. Focus on the good behavior…you may find that you get more good behavior than you expect!