How to Raise Kind Kids

Strategies to help you raise kids who show and share kindness.
Growingup Kindkids

Want to raise happier, more successful kids? Kindness counts. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of California Riverside found that performing three acts of kindness each week improved grade-schoolers’ happiness, satisfaction and popularity with peers. Kinder kids report better self-esteem and well-being and are generally more well-liked by peers. Also, kindness-training programs have been shown to decrease bullying in schools. Convinced? Here are some strategies to help you raise kids who show and share kindness.

Ages 1-5

Empathy Training

Though toddlers can seem patently unkind — biting, hitting and grabbing toys with abandon — parents should understand that their tots don’t harbor unkind motivations, says licensed family therapist Allison Lee-Shaner of Winston Salem. Toddlers are still developing a sense of empathy, or the understanding of how their actions impact others, and seemingly unkind acts are usually ways to test boundaries and learn about others’ reactions.

Parents can help tots foster a budding sense of empathy by modeling kind acts and directing children to use “kind hands” and “kind words,” then demonstrating what those things look and sound like. For example, parents can model this kind of behavior when handling the family pet or interacting with siblings and friends. Gently redirect unkind behavior and take a firm stance on physical acts of unkindness, like pushing a friend or pulling a sibling’s hair, by briefly removing your child from the play scene when these kinds of incidents occur.

Ages 6-12

Let it Go

The school years bring more interaction with peers and, invariably, conflicts that bubble up when kids butt heads. Most school-agers wind up on the receiving end of words or actions that sting at some time or another. The goal should be teaching children not to strike back, says Chris Phelps, founder of Campaign for Kindness and a co-author of “Margo’s Magnificent Choice” and “Max’s Magnificent Choice.”

“To create a kinder world, we must teach children not to internalize behavior directed toward them, but (to) ‘let it go,’” she says. “My first question when a child complains about another kid is ‘Do you feel you’ve done something to deserve to be treated that way?’ If the answer is no, like it most often is, we have the ‘whose issue is it?’ conversation. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the person demonstrating tacky behavior is the one with the issue.”

Helping children depersonalize unkind acts keeps tempers from flaring, reducing retaliation and paving the way for kindness to take hold. (Of course, if your child is the victim of repeated unkindness or bullying behavior, engage your child’s teacher and principal right away.)

Ages 13-18

Family Challenge

Creating a kinder home can be challenging — and may even seem downright impossible — with squabbling teen siblings competing for airspace. If screaming teen sibs make kindness seem unattainable, don’t give up. First, parents need to set the tone they want the family to have, Phelps says. If you don’t want siblings to yell at each other, don’t yell at them.

Pick a weekly “family fun” activity to do together as a unit — this creates shared memories and conversation fodder that help generate sibling goodwill.

Consider embarking on a month-long “kindness challenge” within the family. Define parameters for your challenge together, like how many acts of kindness each member of the family should perform, whether kind acts should remain anonymous, whether money should be involved and so on. Plan a family reward, like a concert or dinner out, for the end of the month when you’ll likely be a kinder, and happier, bunch.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three.