I think we can all agree, a shift we need to see in our culture is to see more kindness, and I believe it starts in the home.
With children especially, they need to be taught how to see and treat others. Their brain is in "super self-absorbed" mode so teaching empathy is a skill that takes time and patience. But what a worthy skill to sharpen! The biggest way we can do this, is to create space for our children to practice. I've rounded up five practical ways to practice kindness, specifically for children but these are great for all ages!
1. "Look into their eyes".
Seeing life outside of self is the core of kindness. However, teaching children to "see people" can be tricky. (Usually it's a b-line past Grandpa to that new toy in the living room). Using the phrase, "Look into their eyes" teaches children to stop, slow down, see people, and then go about their day. Practical example: Every time Oliver is with me at a checkout line I end by saying, "Oliver can you look into their eyes and say thank you?" He pauses, looks at the cashier, and then does the sign language for "Thank You". I takes a few extra seconds but teaching him to look into peoples eyes, is step one to positive social interaction.
2. Naming Donation Boxes.
I got this one from my mom, and it's quite brilliant for a child's brain. She named our "donation box" the "Jason and Jessica Box". She created this hypothetical little boy and girl who didn't have toys and clothes. So as we were cleaning, mom would say, "I know you love that toy, but Jessica doesn't have any. Can you please pick 3 toys to give to Jessica." She would also challenge us to give our best, not just our broken. In a 6, 7, 8 year old mind, giving to "Jessica" or "Jason" for the boys, was much more concrete and intentional than a "Goodwill Box". It turned a task of de-cluttering into a heart connection. ***As we got older we knew that Jessica and Jason represented many children with needs.
3. Thank You Cards Writing a "Thank You Card" after receiving a gift (yes a physical card... not an email or a text) teaches children to recognize kindness given TO them and how to reciprocate that kind gesture. Give your child their own set of cards and stamps. Teach them how to write a card, and address it. It'll take practice and you may have to help them but I promise it's a life skills worth developing. An easy format to teach children is the three sentence method. 1. Thank you for the ______.
2. How will you use it/what do you like about it?
3. Something about the person. Here's an example: Dear Aunt Sally, Thank you so much for the sweater. I love that it is my favorite color, green. I am excited to see you at Thanksgiving in a few weeks. Love, Jeremy
4. Stuffed Animal "Empathy" Play
***This works mostly for younger children (1-5yrs).
A great tool we have as parents are stuffed animals and dolls. We model how we treat people and it creates a place of practice for children. Here are some examples, "Oh hello, Teddy Bear! We are so happy to host you at breakfast today. Oliver, can you please serve our guest and get a napkin for his place at the table?" "Dinosaur, how was your day today? (lowered, sad tone) "Oh I'm so sorry to hear you had a hard day. That sounds very sad. Bad days are no fun. Do you mind if I give you a hug and pray for you?" (Then I'd model right then and there a hug and prayer over Dinosaur) Oliver, what do you think we can do to make Dinosaur feel extra loved after his hard day?" This may sound silly, but it's a great place to put empathy into children let them practice some social skills in "scenarios". 5. Glove-Compartment Giftcards
I heard this from a podcast and think it's a great idea! It trains children to be prepared to give. At the beginning of the year, the mom gave each child five $5 giftcards to McDonalds. (She had 4 children so this cost her $100 total). The children then wrote an encouraging note and tapped it to the back of the gift card. Then all the gift cards went in the car glove compartment in envelopes. (So she had 4 envelopes, one for each child, with their 5 gift cards in them). As they were out and about, if a child saw a homeless person or someone on the street asking for money, the child could choose to use their card to give it to them. The mom would usually be the one to pass it off from the car window. If the children used all their cards, they could use their own money throughout the year to buy more for their "glove compartment stash". The mom explained how this taught the children to have eyes to see people in need and taught them to be prepared to be a blessing. Sometimes just one child would have compassion for someone they say, and other times all four children would want to give a gift card to the same person. I just love how practical this concept is! I hope these ideas spark your heart to create an atmosphere of kindness for your family. Remember, small seeds grow into big trees! With children, the small lessons now will last a lifetime. I'd love to know if you try any of these or if you have other ideas to add! Leave a comment below or on social media and let's all grow in kindness together.
Let's Choose Kindness, Abby
***Don't forget... The Cirkles are cheering you on!