When I had my child I wanted to teach him to be curious, thoughtful, thankful and kind. I felt if he had these qualities he would find happiness and success. Jacqueline Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think anything else you do matters very much.” On a recent trip, my thoughtful son took me to the Kennedy Library and Museum (on my bucket list) and I saw that quote and thought “Well, I didn’t botch raising my child,” for here I am!
How do we teach kindness, thoughtfulness and empathy to children? It is possible to teach these skills just as we teach reading and math and other cognitive skills. Social-Emotional maturity does not come as naturally and readily for all children.
First, always model for your child. “There was a big flood and some children don’t have clothes and water. Let’s go through our drawers and find some clothes to donate. We will also give up pizza night and donate that $20.” By active modeling your child can feel the warmth that comes from kind acts.
Make a family “kindness jar.” Have the family come up with kind things each member can do for one another. Pick a kind act each day. One act may be a free feed the dog on your turn. Or I will make your bed.
Teach thankfulness. Have your child design a thank you note and copy it and add envelopes. Young children can draw thank you for kind acts and gifts and older children can write. I cannot express enough how important it is to WRITE thank you notes.
Help your child move away from “ME FIRST.” In my classroom, children will push their way to the front of lines for the mere purpose of being first—not because anything special is happening. I always send those children to the back of the line. Everyone, including adults, wants instant gratification and nothing is savored or wished or waited for. This has to stop. We have become a nation of “Greedy Meanie Gimmees.” Good things come to those who wait.
Use holidays to teach thoughtfulness and gratitude. Take small gifts for the new year to nursing home residents who have no visitors. Take little flags from the dollar store with a treat to Vets hospitals and homes. Collect canned goods for Thanksgiving. Buy mittens and donate them.
Teach and model kind acts and raise a child who will have the character to become the leader our world needs. We don’t need greed and egoism. Be kind.