How to Raise Good Kids And Help Them Learn Kindness And Compassion
Raising children to be empathetic and kind toward other people — beyond just friends and family members — can feel like a daunting job for many parents. Fortunately, there’s a time-tested way to do it: parents can teach kindness and compassion by setting the right example for their kids.
“One of the easiest ways to put kids in situations where they see suffering — and where they can build empathy — is by volunteering with your children,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting and resiliency expert, told Highlights.
Volunteering opportunities are plentiful. Moms and dads can begin by taking their very young children along with them as they volunteer so their kids can watch. Many organizations need people to pick up and drop off supplies, for example, and a toddler in a car seat could observe their parents’ service. When they ask why the family is doing this, parents can explain how it’s nice to do things for others and it’s important for everyone to do what they can for their community.
Volunteering gives children an outlet for turning their empathy into kind actions.
“When we put our kids in situations where they actually meet people who are having a hard time … it builds empathy because they meet people who are different,” Gilboa said.
What’s more, volunteering teaches children that they are not helpless. Every person can do something to help others. Volunteering gives children an outlet for turning their empathy into kind actions.
“It also shows your kids that not only are there these problems, but that your kids can be part of the solution,” Gilboa said. “Having empathy isn’t actually the same as being kind. So the way to teach kids to be kind is to take them and give them opportunities to be kind with you.”
It’s also important for moms and dads to model kindness toward strangers while their children are watching. Kids observe the way adults treat service workers, customer service representatives and others who may have the unenviable job of sharing disappointing news. Being nice to a person delivering unwelcome information or to a store employee who made a mistake shows children kindness in action.
Teaching children to be empathetic and kind toward other people can feel like a daunting job for many parents.
“Modeling kindness is one of the best ways we can teach it,” Gilboa said.
Even when a parent doesn’t handle a situation with kindness, that can become a learning experience.
“When we fail to model it, we can own that and talk to our kids about what happened and how we’re going to try to do it differently next time,” Gilboa said. “There’s a lot of pressure on parents to get it right all the time. And we don’t and we won’t.”
That also helps children learn how to reflect on their own behaviors when they’re not kind to a sibling or a classmate — or even their parents.
“When you get it wrong, speak to it, own it, be accountable — just like you want your kids to be,” Gilboa said. “They won’t always be kind to their siblings. So when they’re not, you want them to be like, ‘All right, that wasn’t kind. I’m sorry about that. I’m going to try to do better next time.’”