Make kindness second nature for a happy, healthy family member and community member. Practice. Practice. Practice. That is how we master the skill.
Compassion, kindness, and gratitude contribute greatly to our sense of belonging. When we contribute, cooperate, and care, we know we belong. Kindness and sharing also have the added benefit of giving us and our children the sense that, when we share, there can be enough and plenty for everyone.
Always encourage and invite kindness from a perspective of love, joy, empathy, and connection. Never use guilt or shame.
Ideas to teach your children about offering kindness, compassion, and gratitude:
First and foremost be a model. Practice frequent acts of kindness and compassion, and express words of gratitude several times each day. Then involve your children.
- Write thank you notes for every gift, for acts of kindness, help, care, and service. Be specific about the reasons you appreciate it. If your children are too young to write it, then you write it for them, hopefully quoting some of their words. They can add a picture or their name. Keep note cards and paper handy for frequent notes of appreciation.
- Welcome new neighbors with a gift and a note – cookies, fruit, flowers, garden veggies & herbs etc. Invite them to dinner.
- Bring a meal to an ailing neighbor or family member. (Even if you do not cook or bake you can buy a cup of good soup and bring it to them).
- When at the grocery store, make it a practice to select an item or two for the food shelf and place it in the box provided.
- At dinner time share about something you are grateful for, something helpful or kind someone did for you that day, and something helpful or kind you did for someone that day.
- Have children regularly thank their coaches, teachers, activity teachers, bus drivers, lunch helpers, waitresses, store clerks and baggers, parents who host children for play dates, farmers at the farmers market, etc. It will become a good habit.
- Have children do kind or helpful deeds for siblings, parents, other family members.
- Pack an extra granola bar, cookie, or piece of fruit for your child to share with someone at lunch.
- Walk a dog or shovel a walk or bring in the trash cans for a neighbor.
- Feed the birds.
- Offer a ride to an older community member. Pick up groceries for a family member or neighbor.
- As children are older make dinner for the Salvation Army or participate in preparing lunch for COTS.
- Through church or a community organization find an elder who needs a visit from time to time (Adopt a grandparent!).
- Write notes to your children and place them in their lunch box.
It’s so important to notice and delight in a child’s impulse to give. From the moment a baby offers a taste of their soggy teething biscuit or mushy Cheerio, to picking dandelions for mommy, it’s important to respond with pure delight. These are their authentic initiatives. Even if you don’t actually eat the Cheerio, find a way to convey delight and gratitude.
At the holidays, when the presents theme is so prevalent in our culture, I like to balance this with an emphasis on letting our (heart) lights shine through acts of kindness and giving. This leads to so many joyful moments with children actually saying, “He let me use the shovel! He let his light shine!” “I helped Daddy fold the laundry last night! I let my light shine!”
I believe children learn best when we give gentle, sincere, consistent attention to acts of kindness and expressions of care.
Maris Rose is the owner of Maris’s Tree House, a preschool program in Shelburne, and gives parenting classes and workshops through Maris Rose Educational Services.