Most young children are naturally inclined to be both cruel and kind. Wait…what? Kids can naturally be cruel? Hear us out.

Cruelty stems from anger and frustration. Kids don’t have the maturity to manage their negative emotions yet. So when they experience something negative, like another child taking their toy, they feel out of control and lash out as a result.

It’s a “you hurt me, so now i’m going to hurt you” kind of deal. In essence, cruelty is a misguided way for a child to try and take their power back, thereby regaining control.

Teaching Children Kindness

“Kindness isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something we’re taught.” Robin Berman, MD, author of the book Permission To Parent

While cruelty stems from feelings of anger and loss of control, kindness stems from self-awareness and empathy. One of the most important concepts to understand when teaching children kindness is that while kids can be both cruel and kind, they cannot be both at the same time.

Therefore, if you actively encourage kindness in everyday life, and praise your child when they behave kindly for positive reinforcement, you automatically reduce the amount of cruelty in your child.

Imagine it like a sliding scale…as kindness goes up, cruelty and meanness go down. Our brains are wired to try and repeat actions that were rewarding in the past. So if your child learns to see kindness as rewarding, they’ll choose the kind response again in the future. It will become their new default.

You’d think in today’s world of online cruelty and hate that parents would be more concerned than ever with raising kind kids. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

In a Harvard Study, 10,000 kids were asked to rank kindness, personal happiness, and achievement in order of importance. Not only did they rank achievement first, with personal happiness in second, and kindness far behind – they also said they believed their parents would agree that achievement is number one.

Ouch! If you’re committed to raising kind kids that genuinely care about their fellow human beings, here are 9 parenting tips to put you on the right path. We also include a reading suggestion that compliments each tip to make the lesson easier for kids to understand.

For Our Complete Reading List:  Amazing Books That Teach Kindness To Children: Old and New Favorites

 

1. Model Kindness

“We can talk to our kids about being kind all day, but talking only gets you so far. We need to show them how to be kind too.”

Children are born imitators. They mimic the behavior of their role-models. And guess what? When they are little, their biggest role model is you. So if they hear you talking about kindness and see you being kind to others, they will pick up the behavior.

Also, keep in mind, that for school-aged children the behavior of the dominant kids in class tends to spread like wildfire. Cruel or kind, your kid is going to follow their lead. Or perhaps your child is the dominant one that leads others.

In your quest for raising kind kids, don’t forget to partner with their school. Teachers know a lot about what’s happening with your kids’ peers, and they can be a great ally.

Suggested Reading With Your Child:  I am Kind (Positive Power)

 

2. Practice Kindness, A Lot

Look for opportunities to practice kindness with your kids. Make it part of your daily routine. When you pick them up from school, get in the habit of asking “who were you kind to today?” It puts them in the habit of thinking about others, and how they relate to them.

When you witness your kids being kind, praise them. “I saw what you did for your brother, that was so helpful”.

In this way you amplify the neural patterns in their brain that equate kindness with reward so they are more apt to choose kindness over cruelty in the future.

Suggested Reading With Your Child:  How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids

 
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3. Be Mindful

Practice mindfulness exercises with your child. This increases their self-awareness and self-control which, in turn, leads to less reactionary behavior.

By encouraging mindfulness you reduce the chance of cruelty being your child’s go-to response.

Suggested Reading With Your Child:  I Am Peace: A Book Of Mindfulness

 

4. Manage Negative Emotions

Anger management skills for kids are an important part of the kindness equation. Help your kids learn how to process their anger without being mean. When you hear them lashing out as a result of anger, point out the real emotion that’s happening.

If they say, “I hate you and I’m never playing with you again!” you can respond by saying, “you sound really mad”.

In this way you bring awareness to the negative emotion, without rewarding or punishing for it. Your kids will begin to separate being angry from a need to hurt someone else.

Suggested Reading With Your Child: The Jelly Donut Difference: Sharing Kindness With The World

 

5. Teach Empathy

Empathy is one of the roots of kindness. Which is why teaching empathy to children is critical if you’re raising kind kids.

When cruelty happens, ask your child to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. “What do you think he/she is feeling?” When kids can imagine the plight of others, it makes them want to help.

Suggested Reading With Your Child:  Listening With My Heart: A Story Of Kindness and Self-Compassion

 

6. The Right Way To Apologize

One of the best things you can do to help kids (and adults) be more kind is to teach them how to give meaningful apologies.

A meaningful apology is NOT a simple “I’m sorry”.

The apologizer has to acknowledge both what they did that was wrong (mindfulness) and why it was wrong (empathy).

“I’m sorry I called you a name, I know it really hurt your feelings.”

When a meaningful apology is given it brings together all the things we’ve been talking about; empathy, self-awareness, and emotional maturity. The apology ends up becoming a kindness to the wronged individual.

Suggested Reading With Your ChildZach Apologizes

 
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7. Care Less About Winning

Instead of screaming from the sidelines to be number one, talk about teamwork and good sportsmanship. There is nothing inherently wrong with winning, but kids need to know that how you play the game matters just as much as the outcome.

Suggested Reading With Your ChildSally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning And Losing

 

8. Read Books About Kindness

Research shows that reading kindness stories to kids helps them learn to understand and empathize with different perspectives. Watching television does not have the same empathy building benefits.

Suggested Reading With Your ChildThe Invisible Boy 

For Our Complete Reading List:  Amazing Books That Teach Kindness To Children: Old and New Favorites

 

9. Minimize Digital Negativity

Maybe one reason TV doesn’t offer the same boost in kindness as books is because it’s chock-full of negativity. Your kids can easily be bombarded with scary news and negative imagery that decreases empathy and increases fear.

You want to raise compassionate hopeful kids? Get involved and know what type of media they’re consuming. Be sure they are exposed to images with a positive and kind spin.

Suggested Reading With Your ChildThe Energy Bus For Kids

Finally, be patient! Kindness is a skill that has to be learned and practiced, just like any other. It takes time and dedication to build a habit.

If you keep looking for opportunities to practice kindness in everyday interactions, and praise your kids when they’re being kind, they’ll learn to see kindness as intrinsically rewarding. Before you know it, they’ll be showing others how to be kind.

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