Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Club Gossip: 5 Tips on Raising Kind Children

It's an inevitable discussion when you get a group of women together (most of whom are mothers) to discuss Wonder, as we did for book club last month: we all wanted to know how to raise our kids to be kind, compassionate, and caring.

I think that kindness comes naturally to some children, but with bullying consistently on the rise, it's obviously something we need to discuss and teach at home.

Here are 5 simple tips on cultivating kindness in your children:

1. Reframe experiences from other kids' perspective. If you see your child acting in an unkind way toward another child, don't rush to correct them or force them to apologize. Instead, ask them to put themselves in the other person's shoes. For instance, if your little one snatches a toy from their friend, ask them to imagine how they might feel if a toy were taken from them. Hopefully, they'll learn to see their actions from someone else's perspective and choose to act kindly out of compassion instead of guilt.

2. Educate about differences. In Wonder, the main character was born with severe facial deformities, and we get to read about how other people react to him. Some people respond with kindness, some are shocked or scared, and unfortunately, some characters respond with cruelty. At our club meeting, we talked about how vital it is to teach your kids not to be frightened or put off by differences. Talk with them about the enormous variety of people they will meet in their life--different ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, physical differences, etc. If they are prepared and knowledgeable about differences (and can recognize ways that they are similar!), they'll be more likely to react with love when they meet someone who is different in some way from themselves.

3. Don't be embarrassed of their questions/comments. I think almost every parent of a young child has found themselves in the awkward position of having their child ask questions in public about someone who is different. Often, our instinct as parents is to shush them and hurry away, out of fear that their innocent observations and questions will cause offense. But by telling them to be quiet and fleeing the scene, we're accidentally teaching them that the difference they observed is something to be embarrassed or frightened of. Instead of reacting with shock or embarrassment when our kids inevitably ask questions, how about we respond in a way that encourages them to show kindness and caring toward the person they are curious about? For instance, if they see a child sitting in a wheelchair at the playground and wonder aloud why he isn't running with the other kids, maybe we could reply with, "I'm not sure, but he looks nice! Let's go say hi and see if we can play together." Their natural curiosity will be redirected toward inclusion and friendship.

4. Model sincere service--and include the kids. If you find yourself in a position to offer kindhearted service to a friend, why not include your kids so they, too, can learn to look out for others? If you're making dinner for a new mom, maybe your kids can help you cook and deliver the meal. If you're helping weed a neighbor's garden or mow their lawn, your kids can come with you and help out. Encourage your kids to look for ways they can help and uplift others--maybe they can draw a picture for a teacher, help a friend clean up after a playdate, or do simple chores at home. They'll see the happiness you find in caring for others and will want to model it themselves.

5. Celebrate kindness. Praise goes a long way! When you spot your child being kind, make sure to recognize them for it and tell them that you're proud. I can remember a time when I was out shopping with my mom when I was very young. We were leaving a store, and I stopped and ran back to hold the door open so a mom pushing a stroller could get through. I doubt I would remember this very minor act of kindness, except that my mom acted so proud of me. She made sure to tell me how pleased she was that I had been thoughtful, and later told my dad what I had done so he could praise me, too. (Of course, if your child is embarrassed by this sort of attention, you'll have to make sure you praise them quietly in a way they'll be happy with!) But for me, that attention and praise went a long way in making me want to continue looking for ways to show kindness. Recognize and celebrate the kind things you see them do.

How do you encourage your kids to show kindness?

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