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Teaching Your Kids About Kindness: Are You Missing the Mark?

Ask your kids this question – “Am I teaching you to be kind?” Parents may be surprised to hear their children may not think so. And with the current news and world landscape, kindness is more important than ever.

While parents may think they are teaching kindness, kids are getting a different message. According to the latest annual State of the Kid™ survey released by Highlights, there were surprising answers about how kids viewed kindness:

  • When asked if they felt their parents wanted them to be kind, be happy, or do well in school, kindness ranked last. Making Caring Common, a project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, asked this question to middle and high school students nationally, and the results of their survey are similar to the findings with younger children.
  • Actions are taught: Kids notice and are impacted when adults act unkindly and it influences how they process feelings and manage conflict.
  • Kids have a basic understanding of empathy, creating natural conversation opportunities for adults to reinforce empathetic behavior into adolescence and beyond, even in difficult situations.
  • When asked what one thing they would change in the world, nearly half of kids answered they want a kinder world.

Today, November 13, is National Kindness Day, about showing kindness to others through small, simple gestures. We don’t have to stop there, though! How can we teach kindness to our children all year long?

  • Perform random acts of kindness. Hold the door open for someone. Donate clothes or toys to a charity. Drop off food at a family shelter or toys at an animal shelter. Or have your child write a note to someone who’s done something nice for them.
  • Be a role model. Say please and thank you. When someone irritates you, model behavior you want your children to follow. Speak kindly.
  • Talk about it. Share articles from the news of people who are doing good deeds. Use everyday life examples to show how kindness was displayed. When someone is unkind to you and/or your child, talk about the best way to handle the situation.
  • Show gratitude each day. Have your children share what they are thankful about over dinner or ways they experienced kindness at school. If you’re interested in receiving a free magnet with ideas of conversation starters to keep handy in your home, click here.

As the Greek storyteller Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” To stay up to date with the latest tips and information for your child, subscribe to our free Health e-Hints e-newsletter. It’s customized for your children. Sign up here.

For more information on kids and kindness, listen to our PediaCast.

Nancy Cunningham, PsyD
Dr. Nancy Cunningham is a psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who has provided child and adolescent clinical services and overseen program development in their behavioral health department. Dr. Cunningham currently works with external community providers and organizations to develop partnerships that result in improved access to care and integration of services on behalf of children and their families.

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