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Teaching kindness to our children is something that my husband and I didn’t have to discuss. We both know it is a priority, and (looking back) we both started down the same path with Caroline right from birth. It is my philosophy that you can never start too early!

There are two main ways that we try to teach this quality to our daughter:
(These apply to all qualities that we are trying to instill in her)
1. Modeling the behavior
2. Direct teaching

These two methods are extremely important for teaching any virtue or quality to our children. Children (and adults) learn best when they see something in action. If you teach one thing, and model something else, it becomes confusing at any age, no matter what the skill.

I’ll never forget when I was getting my masters degree in education- I was taking a course where the underlying theme and main point of the entire class was how to engage your students in learning. The main focus every day, was to have hands on learning, group work, and activity based learning strategies in the classroom, instead of always using lecture style teaching. Except here I was sitting for almost 2 hours in a classroom being taught “lecture style” every day, about how to incorporate group work into a classroom. I found myself thinking that this professor needed to take her own advice and model the strategies in our classroom! So simple, and it would be much easier for us to learn that way!

The difference, however, is that our children watch and observe us every day, all day. They are learning from us and mimicking our every move. So, as we model behaviors to our children, we must realize that we need to be consistent all day, every day- or we are sending a confusing message. This does not mean that we have to be perfect. It does mean, however, that when we make a mistake, we need to own up to it and fix it when our children are around to see us do so. This is so very important. It is also important for them to see that we aren’t perfect, but that we are always trying our best at things.

We model kindness in so many different ways as adults, and we often don’t even think twice about doing it. It is important to think big and small, as we are teaching this concept- after all, the little things matter so much. We want our daughter to learn that every action can be kind.

Here are some basic ways in which to model “kindness” in our every day lives:
– Saying “hello”, “thank you”, “please”, “goodbye”, etc. to others
– Smiling and waving
– Holding the door for someone
– Helping someone (put a shopping cart back for them, pick up something they dropped, giving something to lost and found, etc.)
– Saying “excuse me”, or waiting patiently
– Sharing with others
– Apologizing if need be
– Making a thoughtful gift
– Giving hugs and kisses
– Giving compliments

The list goes on and on, obviously. There are so many ways in which to be kind and that we do on a daily basis. It is important to do these things for loved ones, and for strangers as well. We want our children to know that kindness goes a long way and makes everyone feel good. It is key that our children see us being kind to them, to our spouse/partner, to strangers, etc.

When talking about “direct teaching”, it is teaching the same things as mentioned above, but as an expectation. Caroline can’t say many words yet (she’s 1.5 years old), and long before she could even understand our words, we were setting expectations that she would need to learn.

It is our expectation that Caroline say “please” and “thank you”. It is our expectation that she learns to share and help others. We ask her to do so at the right moments, and have been asking this of her since before she knew what we meant. At her current age, she understands what we are asking of her, and, while she can’t say the words, she attempts. That is all we ask at her current age. When we ask her to say “please” or “thank you”, she says “yaya”. She’s trying. She is forming a kind habit, and she is learning our expectation even if she can’t say the words correctly. We tell her “good job” and thank her for trying.

We ask Caroline to share her toys with us at home. “Can you share? For Mama, please”. She’s learned to hand us the object and share. We, of course, do the same and share with her. We say “For Caroline”, and hand the object back. We also ask her to do these things when she is interacting with the dogs, and with other adults and children.

We ask Caroline to say “hi” or to wave hello to others. She’s in a shy phase, so she doesn’t always do this one, but we continue to ask and reassure her that it is ok to say “hi” if mama and daddy are with her.

It is so important to set these expectations early, so they aren’t a surprise to our children later. At 17 months, Caroline understands our expectations and does her best to comply. The time and effort that we have put in already is going to pay off soon, when she can actually say the words.

Obviously, expectations should grow as our children get older. Once Caroline is talking and a little more independent, we may ask her to hold the door for someone, or pick something up for someone, and, eventually, say “yes sir”, or “yes, ma’am”, etc. She will be more involved with thinking of kind things to do for someone. Maybe she’ll help make daddy’s favorite dinner, or we’ll make grandma a card together for her birthday. The more involved they are, the more ownership they have over their behavior, and the more likely it is to continue in the future.

It is also very important to identify and point out the kind things that our children do. When they share a toy, it is important to actually say “That was so kind of you to share that toy.”. Or if someone does something kind for us, we can say something to the effect of “Wasn’t that so kind of that lady to help us!?”. In this way, we are enabling our children to look for kind behaviors and take notice. After all, children love mimicking behaviors that they see- so why not point out the good ones!?

Today is Pinterest Day for the Babywise Friendly Blog Network and the ladies in the group are discussing how to teach certain virtues to our children. Be sure and check out our Pinterest Page and check out the other posts today!

Val- Chronicles of a Babywise Mom

Emily- The Journey of Parenthood

Kimberly- Team Cartwright

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