by Judy Dutton
I've taught my daughter many things -- letters, numbers, nursery rhymes. But one thing I haven't taught her, at least in a formal way, is how to be kind. I figured that just happens on its own ... only Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who runs the Making Caring Common project, argues that compassion and generosity are skills that need to be cultivated like any other. "Very often we focus on our kids' achievement and happiness rather than on whether they're caring kids," he says. Well, it's high time we got our priorities straight! Here are five ways parents can teach kids to be kind and make the world a better place.
- Emphasize to your kids that kindness matters. Instead of saying to your kids, "The most important thing is that you're happy," say, "The most important thing is that you're kind." Weissbourd suggests thinking about it this way: "Happiness is about you. But kindness is about everybody around you. And the irony is if you're kind, you build stronger relationships, and those are the best source of happiness we have." So by raising caring kids, you ensure their happiness more effectively than pursuing happiness head on.
- Expand your kid's "circle of concern." "All kids care about somebody, but the issue is to get them to care for people outside their circle," explains Weissbourd. "Do they care for people who are different than them? A kid who's new at school, or unpopular, or struggling with a disability? Be alert to opportunities to expand kids' circle of concern." Encourage your child to defend someone who's being picked on, or to reach out to that kid on the playground who looks lonely by saying, "Want to play?"
- Don't "make" your child apologize. "The first reaction of a parent who just saw their child hit someone is to make them apologize. After all, we want out child to learn manners," says Mark Loewen, a licensed community counselor at LaunchPadCounseling.com. "But it may not help them understand why it was wrong to hit." Instead, get down on your child's eye level and ask them, "How do you think it felt to that child to be hit?" From there, ask your child to come up with ideas on how to help the child feel better again. That way, "your child will have a successful experience of kindness instead of learning a social rule," says Loewen.
- Reflect on others' points of view. "When your child talks about their disagreement with someone, you can ask questions about what may make the other person think that way," says Loewen. "You can also bring up in conversation how others feel, why they feel that way, and what they may be thinking when they feel that way. This increases your child's flexibility to see the world from someone else's point of view."
- Cultivate gratitude. "Appreciating what you have is part of appreciating what others don't have," says Weissbourd. "It makes kids more alert to ways that others are deprived." So every night at dinner or before bed, have your child name one thing they're thankful for, from their new Transformer to the fact that their friend Jenny is back from vacation.
How do you teach your kids to be kind?