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Sharp Health News

How to teach kids to be kind

Sept. 28, 2022

Children holding hands

We’re taught from an early age that being kind to one another is key. However, as kids head back into classrooms and day-care centers and restart school socializing and recreational activities, some parents may be distressed to find that their child seems less than kind when around others.

Whether there’s concerns about a kid’s ability to share or surrounding their treatment of their peers, parents can help children hone their kindness skills with these five tips:

  1. Set a good example.
    It’s important to show kids what kindness looks like. Use the manners with them that you’d like them to use with others. Teach them to say “please” and “thank you” or to be considerate of others by doing just that when you’re interacting with them, family members, friends and people in public. Remember, kids are always watching. When you’re dealing with a server at a restaurant, another parent in the school pick-up line, your partner — or your children themselves — show that kindness matters.
     
  2. Discuss emotions.
    Sometimes kids don’t have the words to explain how they feel or the ability to recognize how their actions might affect others. When children can understand the emotions they have, they can work toward trying to understand the emotions felt by others. Studies show that children who are able to identify their emotions are more likely to be kind and have healthy relationships. Teach your child to put a name to their emotions — for example, sad, angry or anxious. Putting their feelings into words can help them feel understood and secure and can reduce the intensity of their negative emotions.
     
  3. Read aloud.
    Reading has surprising benefits beyond entertainment. Reading a book with your child can help you both become smarter, happier and more empathetic toward others. What’s more, according to a study, reading aloud with a child can improve behaviors such as aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention. Try to find age-appropriate books that focus on friendship, diversity, bullying and other social-relational issues. Talk about the characters and how they acted, how it made the other characters feel, what was done well and what could have been done differently. Ask your child to identify the kind characters and interactions where kindness was shown and encourage them to compare them to some of their own experiences.
     
  4. Volunteer together.
    The benefits of volunteering are well known. From giving a sense of purpose and community to improving self-esteem and boosting your mood, volunteering is not only good for those you help, but also good for you. Share the positive effects of volunteering with your children by participating in a beach cleanup, visiting residents of a nursing or retirement facility, “adopting” a family in need during the holidays, or donating the proceeds of a garage sale to a worthy cause. Giving to others is a great way to make a whole lot of people happy, including you. And happy people are most often kind people too.
     
  5. Travel.
    Whether you take a road trip to the next town over or hop on a plane to go halfway around the world, travel is important. Showing your children how others live, what they look like, and the culture and traditions they honor can help them understand and respect the differences in others while finding potential similarities. When something feels familiar, it also feels comfortable, and we become more likely to respond to it with fondness, according to the “mere exposure effect,” also known as the familiarity principle. With this in mind, travel can make the variety of people throughout the world — or simply from a different neighborhood — feel far more familiar and comfortable to your children and therefore, deserving of their kindness.

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