Teaching Kindness

Aesop QuoteThis week is Random Acts of Kindness Week. As I thought about the topic, I began to consider how kindness is taught. The rampant problem of bullying in our schools underlies a deeper issue – are we teaching our children to be kind?

According to a recent study, about 80% of interviewed youth said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree 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.”

I think we can all agree that that’s not good. So the question becomes, “What do we need to do differently?”

It’s never too early for children to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high moral standards, such as honoring their commitments. I recall how as a youngster I signed up to play tennis, only to find that it wasn’t the right sport for me. However, my parents insisted that I continue for the season, as I had made a commitment to the team to play.

Learning to be caring is like learning anything else: it takes practice. Lots of it. This begins with the parents. Children need to hear their parents address each other as well as others in a respectful manner. This can be as simple as being polite to the waiter taking your order. Make sure your child understands that there is never an acceptable time to be rude to another person.

It’s easy to foster a caring attitude toward family and friends, but it can be more challenging to teach a child how to extend that to an unfamiliar person. Even though technology makes it appear that we are more connected than ever, the reality can be that there is a disconnect behind the computer screen. While the internet is a great platform to learn more about our globe and its challenges, it’s important to take this to the next level. I have always encouraged Ryan to learn more about and be open to different cultures and communities other than his own, but also to ask, “What can I do to help these people in need?”

Parents are a child’s first teacher. We have an important role to play as a mentor and role model. Even when you’re not aware, your child is observing you and seeing how you manage problematic or stressful situations. The way you respond is the way they will respond. Ask yourself: “Is this how I want my child to behave?” When I’m in a stressful situation, I find it helpful to take deep breaths. I have been teaching Ryan the same technique whenever he becomes anxious and overwhelmed.

This week is a wonderful reminder to all of us to be kinder to people and the world around us. Our world needs some extra kindness!

For fun activities to do with your child, visit the 100 Acts of Kindness Project Page: http://bitsofpositivity.com/tag/100-acts-of-kindness-project/

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