How to THINK about kindness: Raising kind kids

How do we teach children to be kind to others?

With these tips, you can be well on your way to raising seriously kind kids.
With these tips, you can be well on your way to raising seriously kind kids.

Kindness is one of the most important things you can teach your child, but it can be overwhelming to think about how to teach such a large and meaningful concept. Many teachers and other professionals are using an acronym to encourage their students to choose kind words and behaviors. The process is called THINK:

  • True. Is it true? Is this just your opinion, or is it based in fact?
  • Helpful. Is it helpful? How do these words or this behavior benefit someone else? If it’s not helpful is it hurtful; could it make someone feel bad, get hurt or be unhappy?
  • Inspiring. Is it inspiring? Does this build someone up? Does it fill their bucket?
  • Necessary. Is it necessary? Is this critical? Does it need to be said?
  • Kind. Is it kind? How would you feel if the roles were reversed? What would you want to hear or see?

Encouraging children to engage in the THINK process can get them doing just that, thinking before they act or speak, thinking about how their actions impact others, and thinking about concrete ways to show kindness. Michigan State University Extension has some tips for raising kind kids.

Walk the walk. The best way to teach your child to value and prioritize kindness is to do it yourself. Make your commitment to kindness obvious in the way you speak to and interact with others in your family and in the larger world. This may mean you do something you don’t want to do in order to make someone else happy. Make sure to share this with your child. “I don’t want to spend all day at Grandma’s today because I have a lot to get done at home, but I know Nana really needs help to get her garden ready.”

Give them some homework. Just like with any new lesson, children need opportunities to practice what they are learning. Get the whole family involved in service to others or the community. Allow your children to choose between some options for volunteer or charity work – would they rather rake leaves, or help with the food drive? You can provide some of these opportunities in your regular lives by asking them to help a sibling or even yourself. Make sure to provide regular expectations of kindness and helpfulness too, including chores and other rituals like asking about each person’s day at the dinner table or checking in on an elderly neighbor

Value the act of kindness. In showing true empathy and caring, we expect nothing in return. When children are rewarded for acts of kindness or charity, like paying them or giving them a new toy every time they help someone else, we are teaching them to value the thing they receive and not the act they are engaging in. Teach your child to take pride in these acts of kindness by offering words of encouragement and support, not money or gifts.

Point out unkindness and its effects. When you see someone bullied or hurt on television or in real life, casually point it out to your child. Ask them to think about why it happened, how it impacted the people involved and what could have happened instead. The news especially can be a scary and tricky thing to navigate for young children. Make sure to stay age-appropriate when talking about unkindness that you see or hear about. Help your child make the connection between these acts of unkindness and their impacts.

Expand your child’s world. It’s easier to be kind and caring to others if we have respect and understanding for them. Provide opportunities for your child to learn about and interact with a diverse cast of people. Read books, watch documentaries, join clubs or groups that allow your child to interact with people who are different. Show them that no matter what someone’s race, religion, gender or beliefs, they deserve respect and kindness. Teach your child to value inclusion and diversity.

Kindness matters, and we can never have enough of it. With these tips, you can be well on your way to raising seriously kind kids.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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