How to teach children to be kind

With a year like no other and World Kindness Day taking place on November 13, 2020, many families will reflect on the random acts of kindness they have received or given this year. Whether it be from neighbours you had never met before, parents at your kids’ school or strangers. It may also be a time when we reflect as parents how can we encourage more kindness from our own children. Child development expert Dr Harvey Karp has provided some amazing tips and sneaky ways to teach your toddlers character and manners.

Experienced parents know that toddlers often tune out our explanations (“Front door”) and pay sharp attention to what they see us do or overhear us say (Side door”). Side-door lessons allow us to sneak into our children’s minds and plant seeds of kindness and good character without our little ones feeling lectured. Practicing good behaviour over and over, through pretend play is just as powerful as a teacher to your young child as actual experience.

Tell Fairy Tales

For thousands of years, fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” have been told to entertain children and adults. More than mere entertainment, these little stories teach life lessons like courage, honesty, and not talking to strangers (or “wolves”). Think of them as planting seeds of character and kindness that slowly take root in your child’s spirit.

Figure out what you want to teach your child, is it not getting upset when you have to leave the house? First, capture your child’s imagination with lots of description so your child starts feeling trusting and interested. Then weave in a little lesson about a specific behaviour or value that you want your child to learn—sharing, helping others, telling the truth, saying thank you, etc. This is where you introduce the problem that must be solved. Then, finish your story with the problem being solved, the characters being safe, and everyone living “happily ever after.” (Read more about how to become your child’s favourite storyteller.)

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Catch others being good

Another “side-door” way to teach your child good behaviours is to comment when you see other kids (and adults) doing them. I call this catching others being good . You will have many chances to use this skill. When you’re driving, you can comment on how nicely the drivers wait at the red light . . . or take turns at the stop sign. At stores, notice how people buy yummy food but keep it closed until they get home. At school, notice how the big kids eat with forks or how they rub their hands really hard when they wash them.

Role-Play

Around your child’s 2nd birthday, they’ll start having toys to engage in little conversations and pretending to be other people (or things). Role-playing is a way to use these fun activities to plant more seeds of kindness through the “side door” of their mind. Role-playing is great because there’s no pressure. Kids get to be silly, make mistakes, and have fun, even as they are learning.

This method works best for tots around 2 to 3 years of age—that’s the time they become interested in pretending to be other people. (You can role-play with younger toddlers too, but you will have to play all the parts.)

Demonstrate Kindness & Consideration

Use your toddler’s “monkey see” instinct to show them what kindness looks like in action. Replace negative comments with positive ones when you speak to friends and family. Let your toddler see you help a neighbour with her groceries, hold the door for the person behind you at the library, or send a “get well” card to a sick friend.

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After seeing your own kindness in action, your toddler may feel inspired to act kindly too. Remember, kindness is contagious.

For more tips on understanding and living in harmony with your toddler, check out The Happiest Toddler on the Block !