As parents, we all want to raise our kids to be good, kind humans, so today I’m sharing my suggestions and favorite tips for raising kind kids.
Kindness is not just a behavior. We often think of kind kids as ones who are polite, follow directions, and do volunteer work. However, kindness is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking that effects how we behave towards others. A child can display kindness behaviors, but not have a kindness mindset. It’s how we often have children who get praised by teachers and parents for being good, but will turn around and bully another student. It happens all the time, and it’s because often we aren’t focusing on a kindness mindset when raising our children.
Tips for Raising Kind Kids
Check out our Inclusivity Lesson Plan to teach kindness in your classroom or while homeschooling!
1. Model Kindness
You knew I was going to say this, right? We are our kids’ earliest teachers, and they behave the way we do. They’re also listening. All the time. Your 1 year old will learn lots of fun new words when you react to someone cutting you off in traffic, even if they can’t say them yet. They will also learn that anger is an appropriate response to other people’s actions. Of course there is a time and place for anger, but this is just an example. Your children see how you treat others at a restaurant, how you talk about other people, and will pick up on your general attitude.
If you want your children to be kind, open-minded, good humans, you need to be one too. Examine your own biases and thoughts, and see how those are being reflected in your kids. Then work together to educate yourselves and improve your thoughts. You’ll see as you become kinder towards others, so do your kids.
2. The Toy, Animal, Human Connection
My kids aren’t allowed to hit their toys. Or throw them when they’re mad. If my 4 year old gets angry and throws a stuffed animal, he has to pick it up, give it a hug, and apologize. In our house, toys have feelings.
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Yes, kind of like in Toy Story. He hurt his friend by being mean or too rough, and needs to learn to be kind to his friends. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Because how kids treat toys is how they will treat animals. We have a very patient cat, Emma, and we got her when our kids were very young. Emma has never been hurt, chased, grabbed, or had her tail pulled.
When we were thinking about adopting a Yorkie, the rescue center lady said she normally never adopted out Yorkies to families with kids under 10. They almost always got hurt by kids, and this broke my heart! She said that she’s never seen kids treat a dog with such respect and gentleness. Each one took a turn to get down on their knees, let the dog come up and sniff them, and then petted it gently. No crowding, no yelling, no roughness. She said that when we decided we were ready to have a dog, to call her and she’d be more than happy to adopt one of her yorkies out to our family.
My kids knew how to behave around a tiny dog. From the time they were babies, they learned how to treat animals by how they were taught to treat their stuffed animals. And we know from years of studies that how children treat animals is a huge indication of how they will treat other human beings. Toys, to animals, to humans. Kindness is taught very early.
3. Teach “Different Is Normal”
This is one of my favorite tips for raising kind kids. Kids learn to judge others not only at home, but at school as well. My kids attend a rural school, where most of the students live on farms and are raised with a conservative midwestern mindset. Kids are often bullied for the littlest difference, and individuality is looked upon badly. For contrast, I went to high school in different cities where the students were incredibly diverse, and being unique actually gave you a social advantage.
We’ve taught our kids constantly that being different is a good thing. It takes a lot of effort to remind our kids that even though even some of their teachers say things like “pink is a girl color” or “boys shouldn’t have hair longer than their shirt collar” that it’s not okay to think that way. Our differences are what make us special, interesting people!
One of my proudest moments was when my tiny 5th grader put herself between a 6th grade boy and two large 8th grade boys who were bullying him for wearing nail polish. She said “That’s not okay! He can wear nail polish if he wants to!” They rolled their eyes and left, and my daughter turned around and told him she loved his nail polish, and thought his hair was awesome too. He gave her a big hug, and they became fast friends. When I heard this story, I knew that what I was doing was working and I was raising kind kids.
4. Community Mindset VS Individual Mindset
This has caught my attention as a major problem lately with COVID-19, and it’s something we should be working on with our kids. However it’s actually been a problem for decades. We love individuality, and independence. However, when someone’s idea of independence affects the health and safety of other people, it becomes a problem.
It’s important to teach our kids that kindness means thinking about people other than themselves. It means thinking “How will my actions affect other people?” There are so many ways to teach kids about this. You can teach them how to be respectful of others when you’re in a public setting, and teach them ways they can help others. You may enjoy blasting music in your yard during the day, and that’s okay! But if you have a neighbor who works the night shift as a nurse and can only sleep during the day, and the music prevents them from sleeping, then that’s not okay.
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We’re often taught to think about what makes us happy and what we enjoy doing. But especially as Americans, we’re not taught very often to think of how our decisions impact other people or our community in general. Teach your kids how to think about how their actions could affect other people, and you’ll raise a kind kid.
5. Catch and Correct Bias Attitudes Early
The best way I’ve found do this is through listening to what your kids say, and answering questions. Often during the summer, we travel to different cities to walk around and enjoy being there. I’ve always told my kids if they see someone who is different to never point or be rude, but they can ask me quietly if they’re curious. I use these trips as teaching opportunities since we live in a fairly rural community. My dream is to move to a city eventually, because I feel at home in them and enjoy more open minded communities.
My kids will see someone who has a disability, or religious headwear, or speaking in a different language, and will ask. I will then quietly explain that that person may have been injured or was born that way. Or that just like their cousins wear long skirts and don’t cut their hair, that person wears that headwear due to religious beliefs. Or if someone is speaking a different language, I will tell the kids what language it is if I can identify it, and teach them a word in that language.
Bias Is Everywhere
I’ve also taught my kids that women and men are equal, and they see that everyday. My husband works outside the home, and I work from home. I do the deep cleaning because I’m very detail oriented and used to clean professionally. He cooks dinner every night when he gets home from work, and does catch up cleaning on the weekend. We both do laundry. We want our kids to grow up in a world where people don’t automatically assume I don’t work at all because we have 4 kids, or that my husband doesn’t cook or clean because he’s male. These are assumptions we hear all the time when meeting new people, and we use these opportunities to teach our kids not to make generalizations about other people.
Be what you want your kids to see. Everyone can correct their biased or negative attitudes towards things, be it race, gender, appearance, disabilities, socio-economic status, etc. Identify and correct those attitudes in yourself, and discuss them when you see your kids display biases as well. Even if your home is already kind and open minded, they will pick biases up at school, from tv, and even from family. Gently discuss and correct them, and you’ll raise some amazing little people who will surprise you with their kindness.
The mindset of kindness is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. I hope you found some of these tips for raising kind kids helpful! If you have any things you do with your kids to help them develop a kindness mindset, we’d love to hear it!