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An expert in cultivating kindness shares practical tips with Noggin parents.
Dr. Thomas Lickona wrote the book on raising kind kids: How to Raise Kind Kids. Now he’s sharing some winning strategies that Noggin families can try to power up kindness in their own homes.
“You can coach kindness just like you would coach a sport,” he said. “You have to do it patiently. You have to demonstrate it, and then you give your child a chance to imitate what you’ve just demonstrated. Then you have to practice it, give positive, encouraging feedback, and then gradually back off and watch them do it with less help.”
Here are 11 specific ideas that Dr. Lickona (very kindly!) shared with Noggin:
Research shows that when parents tell kids they are “kind” and “generous” people (rather than praising a behavior as kind), kids start to think of themselves as kind people. Dr. Lickona explains, “They take pride in being that sort of person, the kind of person who shares, the sort of person who is generous.” Try saying: “You are such a kind big brother to help your sister find her teddy bear” or “You are a generous person! That’s why you shared your cookie.”
Consider giving your kids one chore for each year of age to help them learn to take pride in being helpful. Dr. Lickona notes that being helpful is at the core of kindness: “It means being aware of others’ needs, noticing them, helping without being asked.” He said kids are capable of a lot more than parents might realize at home: they can help care for siblings, clear the table, make beds, sweep…
Be kind to your family members, your friends, and other people you interact with. Ask others how they are, listen, and offer to help. Kids are watching and will learn from your example.
Your kids are watching you…but make sure they understand what you’re doing and why. For example, if you donate to a local library, you could tell your child, “I love books because they help us learn and imagine, and I love our local library because it helps all kids find books they’ll love. When I can, I give money to the library to help more kids read great books!”
Create a “talk it out space” or “peace table” where family members can go to go to solve problems. When two people arrive at the table, they should take two deep breaths. Each should talk about what he or she wants. Then each person should talk together about what’s fair, and compromise. This will help your kids learn that it’s OK to have conflicts … and then work them out with kindness and respect.
Dr. Lickona said sharing stories of kind things other kids have done can inspire your kids to think creatively about how they can help. For example, he shared the story of a 4-year-old neuroblastoma patient, Alex Scott, who raised $2,000 with a lemonade stand in her front yard to help doctors find cures for kids battling cancer. That lemonade stand has turned into a non-profit cancer research organization that has funded nearly 1,000 research projects at 135 institutions.
It’s important to model kindness for your kids — but it’s also important to expose them to stories and characters (from books, TV, or movies) that show kids the goodness in the world. “When you see all those different examples, you then start to have a conversation: ‘Well, what can we do? What can we do in our neighborhood? What can we do in our community?’”
Dr. Lickona said creating a family mission statement highlighting kindness helps families create a higher sense of purpose. “It becomes your reference point as a family, something that guides you is everyday family life. You really develop a sense of who you are as a family, a shared sense of purpose, a shared identity: this is who we are as a family, we care about these things.”
When Dr. Lickona takes his grandkids for walks, he tells them there are three kinds of citizens: the kind who litters, the kind who never litters, and the kind who picks up litter to make the community clean and beautiful for everybody. “That becomes part of their identity,” he said. “You can do this kind of thing at a very early age. And the wonderful thing is that kids will take pleasure in it.”
Find local causes — from helping at a soup kitchen to cleaning up a local park — that matter to your family and volunteer together. Kids will remember the experience, and it will help them learn how to empathize with others.
Dr. Lickona recommends designating three family jars for coins: spending, saving, and giving. Your child can help to pick a charity where they can donate the “giving” coins once the jar is full.
Are there any other ways YOUR family likes to teach your kids kindness? Share your tricks on Noggin’s Facebook!