How can we encourage children to be kind?

I recently spent two-and-a-half days at camp with my daughter’s sixth grade class. The experience was enjoyable and definitely schooled me on elementary age children. A comment another parent made has resonated with me and I am still ruminating over it. She stated, “One parenting component I think our society is missing is teaching children how to be kind. Some of the children just aren’t kind to each other, to the camp counselors, and to adults who are chaperones. Even if you don’t like a person, it’s essential to be kind to that person.”

In order to teach kindness to children, you need to model kindness

As I think about that, I can agree with it. I came in contact with children who ignored directions. Children who talked while the adult was talking. Children who watched someone drop a pencil and just walked on by without picking it up. Children who watched another child fall down without doing anything to help. In my brain I get respect and kindness intertwined. Although I think there are similarities, I also think they are different. We do kind acts with respect.

How can we encourage children to be kind? As adults, there are many things we can do in our personal and professional lives. While driving we can not scream at other vehicles. While in the grocery store we can push the cart on one side of the aisle instead of taking up the whole aisle. In school we can talk to children in a kind tone of voice. We can give children acceptable choices. While walking to the school bus with the children we can assist the child who needs a shoe tied. Are these things respectful? I believe so. I believe they are kind acts done in a respectful way.

We can point out the actions children are exhibiting that are kind. When we see Johnny give Elizabeth a tissue because she has a runny nose, we can say, “Johnny, I saw you gave Elizabeth a tissue. That was very kind.” When we see Sylvia walk around Monica’s block structure instead of walking through it, we can say, “Sylvia, you walked around the block area. I know Monica appreciated that!” When Bobby is struggling with his math homework and we see Elijah helping, we need to make sure we make a comment telling Elijah we noticed and how kind he was being.

During our camping trip, I was challenged significantly when children did not listen to my words. I was challenged when children talked while I was talking. I was challenged when after three miles of rafting; the children were still hitting oars while paddling. There were times when I was not kind. There were times when I blurted out, “Just listen!!!” When I calmed down, I had to remind myself that I needed to be kind. I needed to model kindness to the children. That’s not always easy to remember. For me, there are times I need to talk to children and either apologize for my words or to speak to them clearly about my expectations. I think it’s important for adults to acknowledge when they are wrong. There was one incident at camp when I was rude to a girl and needed to follow up with her regarding our interaction. It was so easy to spout the rudeness she was giving me right back at her. It was a little harder to apologize to her and say I was wrong about being rude and that I needed to be kind. It was even harder to be kind when her behavior did not change. Even though that behavior did not change, I still tried hard to be kind. No one deserves to be treated unkindly. How are you showing kindness to those you interact with?