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Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
 
But I also see stories that give me hope that the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It is these stories that I want to share with my kids. To teach them that being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
 
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover that this is true. 
 
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
 
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
 
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
 
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist, Richard Weissbourd, initiated a project called, Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80% of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20% rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.

They came up with the following 5 strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

  1. “Make caring for others a priority” – As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.
  2. “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude” – Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids? 
  3. “Expand your child’s circle of concern” – There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner.
  4. “Be a strong moral role model and mentor” – Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.
  5. “Guide children in managing destructive feelings” – We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic. 

Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it? 

Heidi Hamm

Heidi Hamm is a writer, wife and mom of twin boys who are nothing alike, and their older sister, who won’t admit that she really does like 80s music. She loves bookstores, Starbucks and peanut butter. You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/heidihammwriter/

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