My son was having the time of his life the other day in his toddler gym class. That is… until another kid shoved him to the ground on purpose for no reason. Just being mean, I guess.
My little guy was fine and popped up, shook it off, and resumed running with the rest of the wild pack of toddlers.
I wasn’t really bothered by the incident. Kids fall. No worries.
But something kept nagging at me, this boy’s mom was sitting right in front of the action and witnessed the whole thing from less than a foot away.
When it happened, I waited for the standard issue mom stuff to go down.
You know, the stuff we moms say when our kids are rude…
We don’t do that
Say you’re sorry
Are you OK?
I literally heard crickets in a room full of crazy toddlers. In other words, she said and did NOTHING.
Teaching Kindness Starts with Us
I sat astonished and continued to watch as this child remained out of control the entire class – yelling, banging on the mirrors, and pushing and hitting more kids.
All met with one apparently ineffective response, “stop that ______!”
Sure, this child may be acting this way because of a condition affecting his ability to fully control his emotions and actions. And I have tremendous compassion when it comes to this issue.
There’s just one difference between the moms I know whose child is struggling to control their behavior and this mom. The glaring lack of accountability and kindness being taught.
There wasn’t any encouragement to apologize or be nice at all. Really no discipline whatsoever.
I think we’d all agree, we don’t need any more mean kids growing into mean, entitled adults. We clearly have enough of those lovely individuals to annoy us in our day.
So how do we not inadvertently raise mean kids who bully other kids?
Simple Ways to Teach our Kids Kindness
I’m going to answer that question in just a second, so stay with me. But I first want to ask another question.
Is it 100% this mom’s fault that her son was behaving in a way that is repeatedly mean to other kids?
My honest answer is no. There are simply too many factors that can contribute to this behavior. And I’m trying my best to not sound like I’m mom-shaming here. I really hate that.
My biggest concern was how there was no effort to make the situation right.
If we don’t set the standard, our kids will get the message that apologizing or selflessly changing their behavior isn’t important. And they’ll likely continue to repeat the same behavior.
Parenting well isn’t something we do one or two times. It’s testing, tweaking, and doing what works for our individual child over and over again.
No child is perfect, nor should we ever strive for that to be the case. We just need to help them see that all these other people we live with in this world really matter. And how we treat them matters.
And the earlier we start the better…
Every attempt to trace aggression to its roots indicates that it starts in the preschool years and thrives in elementary and middle school. Source
That is why I tend to focus less on very specific parenting techniques here. That’s because every single child is different. I’m sure you see that in each of your kids. What works for one doesn’t always work for the other.
Why We Have to Teach Kindness
The vast majority of children (60 to 70 percent) are never involved in bullying, either as perpetrators or victims. Early in development, most children acquire internal restraints against such behavior. But those who bully, do it consistently. And their aggression starts at an early age. Source
It’s our moral obligation as people and parents to raise kind humans.
Yes, for the benefit of our world and the other people our kids will come in contact with. But the concern isn’t just with other people.
Children that exhibit bullying behavior have a much higher chance of allowing this behavior to remain in their lives. Ruining their relationships, their careers, and every other area of their lives.
But we can do something about our children’s behavior and shape wonderful and kind people. And it should be a major focus so we can give our kids the best chance at their best life.
Let’s work together as parents to put an end to contributing to this bullying epidemic in our schools, neighborhoods, and even churches. We do this by raising kind kids.
Practicing the tips in this post will give you some helpful guideposts to start with.
5 Ways to Teach Kids Kindness
1. Practice Kindness
One of the best ways to teach kindness is to practice kindness in action. We all know that it feels better to give than to receive. We just don’t always live this out every day.
Creating opportunities to be kind to others is a wonderful way to sow seeds of compassion in our children.
Random acts of kindness are a great place to start. And these acts of kindness can be to total strangers or people we know like our neighbors or your kid’s classmates and teachers.
The point is to do this often and consistently.
Making the real heartfelt needs of others encourages compassion in our children and that’s a really good thing!
2. Always Have Your Child Apologize
If you observe your child acting in a way that is rude to another child or adult, they should rightly apologize to that person. This goes for siblings as well.
The fact is, apologizing is a humbling experience. I don’t think anyone really enjoys doing it. But we all do things that warrant an apology once and a while. And while we may cringe at the thought of doing it, it’s still the right thing to do.
And doing what’s right even when it’s really uncomfortable is a skill our kids need to be really proficient in!
Apologizing directly to the person they’ve wronged is also reinforcing that what they did is unacceptable behavior.
Now here’s where I bring some balance. Do not shame your child. And make the apology simple.
If your child is resistant at first, don’t make it a huge deal. Just keep doing the same thing every time it’s appropriate. You’ll eventually see less resistance. If they know the apology is coming every time, it helps them make better choices.
3. Model Kindness in Front of Your Kids
When you’re out with your kids and the cashier at the grocery store isn’t going fast enough, huffing and puffing and telling her she’s taking too long probably isn’t a way to model kindness in front of your kids. And really isn’t nice anyway.
We’ve ALL acted ugly in front of our kids! I know I have a few times. In fact, my middle daughter (the one who drips compassion) has called me on it a couple times. Ouch.
Even though we can lose our cool from time to time, we need to be aware that those sweet little ones are watching and listening… and copying.
If you do make a mistake, be humble and have an honest conversation about your own behavior. Talk about why that wasn’t the best way to handle things.
This type of conversation helps to develop reasoning, empathy, and the ability to positively modify their own behavior.
4. Don’t Bully Your Kids
I also want to add that we also should avoid being a bully to our kids. If we’re always yelling, shaming, teasing, or dumping on our kids we’re simply perpetuating bullying behavior.
Remember the phrase, “hurt people, hurt people”?
It’s very, very true. If we deal harshly with our children or repeatedly tease them (even if we think it’s all in fun) we run the great risk of wounding their heart.
It’s likely they’ll take their shame and pain and thrust it on someone else. Not to mention that’s it’s just not great parenting.
Our kids need us to provide conditional love, support, and encouragement. Our home must be a place of peace and safety.
5. Establish a Team Mindset in your Home
Kids need boundaries and a connection to being part of a team. Your team is your family and your children need to experience working together.
The absolute fastest way to raise a self-entitled child is to let your kid own their freaking world and do whatever the heck they want without consequences. Or understand how their actions affect others around them.
Those are just a few examples. Just look at your own family’s routines and look for places where there are no borders, and establish a few. Start small and work up.
Your objective isn’t to make your home rigid with rules. It’s to train your child to acknowledge and respect boundaries, rules, and working with others. That’s preparing them for the real world!
Final Thoughts on Kindness
Kindness is in such short supply in our world today. Bullies and mean people are on the rise and so is the rate of depression and suicide among kids and teens.
Growing up in our crazy, overwhelming world is hard enough. We need to work together as responsible parents to do our part to raise kind and decent humans.
There are no perfect parents and there are no perfect kids. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about showing up and trying.
I think we’re all tired of turning on the news and hearing about another mass shooting or another young person who felt like their only option was to take their own life.
This has to stop. And we can all do our part by working together to raise compassionate people who have genuine respect for others.
If you make human decency a priority over good grades and winning the game, you’re probably a freaking awesome parent! And we all thank you for doing your part.