Little Ways to Encourage Kindness in Your Kids

From Parents Magazine

Wondering how to teach your child to be generous and considerate? As it turns out, kids are actually hardwired to be kind. “The desire to help is innate,” says David Schonfeld, M.D., a professor of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at University of Southern California. And as parents, it’s our job to nurture and guide this natural inclination so it becomes a lifelong habit. “It’s important to be a good role model—children learn to be helpful from watching you,” says Schonfeld. Try these simple ways to cultivate your kid’s helping gene.

1. Make helping a family affair.

When a friend gets sick or a local family falls on hard times, ask your kids what they’d like to do to help. Let them pitch in and arrange a bouquet of flowers, make a lasagna or collect cans of food. They’ll find out firsthand how good it feels to brighten someone’s day.

2. Teach respect for the earth.

Teach your kids not to litter. If you see an old newspaper or a used coffee cup left on a park bench, throw it away. It feels good to take care of a mess you didn’t make and weren’t “supposed” to clean up. 

3. Assign chores.

Kids should understand that a certain amount of helping is required because they’re members of the family and because it’s the right thing to do. Show them where the cat food is, how to clear the dinner table and how make their beds. Keep a chore chart to track and reward the completion of their tasks—they’ll feel great pride in doing their share.

4. Don’t criticize their efforts.

Yes, you can get the wet towels off the floor faster, sort the laundry better and pour the milk without spilling it, but if you take over (or critique too much) it leaves your little helpers feeling inept—and less likely to offer their services again. Instead of expressing impatience, teach your kids that they can make a difference at home. Just imagine how good they’ll feel when they step out into the world.

5. Share the wealth.

Teach your kids to see the abundance all around them and to think of people to share it with. When your rosebush blooms, invite your child to snip a few buds and take them to her teachers. Is her shelf overflowing with books? Suggest she donate a box to the library or a local family shelter. Package up soup or cinnamon rolls and take them to an elderly neighbor.

6. Cheer up a stranger (or a friend).

If you see that your neighbor’s newspaper is always getting soaked by the sprinklers, toss it onto her porch. If the guy who drives your bus has been gone for a few days, ask him how he’s doing when he returns. Is a friend sad? Give her a hug. Teaching your kids to notice what’s going on in the lives of other people fosters empathy and can inspire them to become keen helpers.

7. Give your kids rose-colored glasses.

Sometimes, it can seem as if bad news is all around us. Point out to your kids the good things that are happening and the good people who are helping others. Cut out newspaper articles about student groups who volunteered to build homes or collect clothes after a natural disaster. This makes your kids feel better about the world they live in and also gets them thinking creatively about ways they can make a difference.

8. Do something that’s above and beyond the call of duty.

If your neighbors have lost a pet, call and ask whether they’ve found their furry friend. If they haven’t, you and your child can offer to post more signs and keep an eye out for their pal.

Other ideas: offer to help a fellow grocery shopper get their bags to the car, or let someone with fewer items go ahead of you in line at the supermarket.

9. Practice friendliness.

Compliment a stranger on her great sweater, say “good morning” to a neighbor and thank the pizza delivery guy. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment or expression of appreciation is all the boost someone needs to get through the day.

10. Be a good neighbor.

In your neighborhood, there’s probably someone who needs help or a problem to be solved—whether it’s a person who can’t move their own trash bins or a snowy sidewalk that needs shoveling. So the next time you see something awry, don’t complain. Look at it as an opportunity to get involved, and inspire your kids to find ways to make their world a brighter place.

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