We all aspire to raise compassionate children who are kind to those who especially need it most. Here are 7 tips on how to raise a kind child.
Imagine a fourth grade classroom. The chatter dies down when a new student enters. He’s not like the other kids—he’s different. Clearly different.
He’ll have a hard time navigating through the social rules of school, much less make a friend. He’ll probably be the target of meanness, ridicule and loneliness.
Some kids will be outright mean: They’ll make jokes, call him names, spread rumors. They’ll turn others away from him.
Others will stay “neutral”: They’ll avert their eyes as he passes the hallway. They’ll stay quiet when they hear a mean joke or see him shoved. Maybe they’ll whisper to one another when they don’t think he’s looking.
Then, there are kind kids. Kind children who imagine the hurt, loneliness and fear he must feel in the new school. They won’t join in on the jokes—they’ll put a stop to it. They’ll sit in the empty desk next to him because nobody else would. They wouldn’t tolerate bullies.
It’s hard to be that kid. He’d not only have to overcome the pressure to fit in, but their own questions, conflicts and biases.
How to raise a kind child
How can we raise a kind child? One who won’t just stand by in the face of cruelty but will reach out to others? One who will be a good friend? Here’s how:
1. Show gentleness
“Aw, let’s cuddle with the tiger,” I told my four-year-old. We took his new stuffed animal and gave him a gentle squeeze before we both hugged him.
Kids need to know how to be gentle. Maybe it’s hugging her new baby sister, petting the cat or playing with stuffed animals. These kind gestures show we don’t always act so rough or guarded. That we can peel off our outer layers, and that certain scenarios call for a kinder tone.
2. Don’t tolerate rudeness, towards you or anyone
Do you find your kids talking mean to one another? Does your daughter reply with a curt and rude response when you ask her a question?
Don’t tolerate these manners, whether she’s talking to other kids, her grandparents, or you.
Nip it in the bud. “We don’t talk rude to one another,” you might say. She’ll understand we all fall under the same rules and social expectations. Raise kids who don’t talk back.
Then, enforce consistent rules, regardless of circumstances. Your daughter may have had a bad day. It may even be her birthday. But that doesn’t excuse her from bullying her little brother. Acknowledge the circumstances but don’t let them excuse her from being mean.
3. Encourage helpfulness—but don’t reward it
One of the easiest ways to raise kind kids is to encourage helpfulness. But here’s the extra kick: Don’t reward them for it. At least not directly.
Genuine helpfulness should come from within. Kids should be kind because they derive internal joy from being so. And because it’s the right thing to do. Not because they get attention or money.
4. Praise your child’s character
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Common parenting advice tells us not to praise character-based traits (e.g. “You’re so smart!”) and instead praise the effort (“You must have studied so hard!”).
This is true about effort-based traits like one’s smartness, athleticism and artistry. You wouldn’t want your child to think her smartness is inherent and has nothing to do with effort. This would only make her shy away from anything difficult that might label her as “not smart.”
We also don’t want our kids to feel locked in to a certain talent. As if he’s the artistic one while his brother is the athletic one.
Kindness, however, is different.
In this case, you would want your kids to associate kindness as part of their makeup. Saying “You’re so kind,” would bear more impact than “You did a kind thing.”
Author Adam Grant says this is one of the ways to raise a moral child. Praising character instead of behavior reinforces that she’s a kind person. He writes in his book, Originals:
“When our character is praised, we internalize it as part of our identities. Instead of seeing ourselves as engaging in isolated moral acts, we start to develop a more unified self-concept as a moral person.”
In other words, children are more likely to clean up toys when they’re asked to be helpers instead of to help.
5. Don’t focus so much on achievement
Winning isn’t everything. Really. When everything is about competition, your kids lose sight of other more noble pursuits. Teamwork, effort, challenging oneself.
They also forget how others might feel when the focus is on themselves. They might grow up narcissistic instead of empathetic. And aiming so high at all costs leads your kids to focus only on themselves and see others as props or competitors.
6. Point out kindness when you see it
Whether theirs or others’, point out acts of kindness you see. When reading books or watching movies, discuss good deeds the characters are doing. Show how their kindness made others feel.
Also point out when characters aren’t being kind. One of my beefs with cartoons is when they display meanness without any resolution. Or they’ll make mean acts a comical farce.
(Like the part where Princess Ana punches Prince Hans in the face. He wasn’t a nice guy, but her action wasn’t admirable or deserve laughter.)
7. Model kindness
Parenting starts with us. The kindness we want to see in our kids must begin with ourselves. I say this so many times but it bears repeating: We need to model the values we want our kids to emulate.
Be kind, in actions and in words. You don’t even need to say anything. Your actions will teach your child more than any lecture or lesson could.
8. Show empathy
Another recurring theme around this blog? Empathy. In this case, it’s even more important for your kids are able to show empathy to what others must be feeling. Empathy allows us to see beyond ourselves and opens us to kindness (the Golden Rule, anyone?).
Download my PDF, The Power of Empathy, and learn how to prevent power struggles and instead better connect with your kids, all by understanding their perspective. Join my newsletter and get it below—at no cost to you:
Wonder by A.J. Palacio is a story about August, who suffers from facial deformities. The book reveals which kids pick on him, those who stand by and watch, and admirably, those who stand up for him.
As I read along, I wondered what my kids would do. I can’t tell what they would do in those circumstances. But I hope I’m raising compassionate children. The ones who will choose kindness, even—and especially—to those who are different.
Get more tips on how to raise a kind child:
- 10 Children’s Books about Being Kind
- Random Acts of Kindness: 35 Little Things to Brighten Anyone’s Mood
- Be the Adult You Want Your Child to Be
- 12 Children’s Books that Reinforce Positive Behavior
- How to Stop Kids from Fighting Every Day
Your turn: What are examples of kindness you’ve seen your kids show? What are your tips on how to raise a kind child?