“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” Confucius
You might be thinking, my child is already compassionate, sweet and kind. But for young children, their limited life experiences means the kindness they exhibit centers more on their immediate world: their parents, extended family, their school. They might understand what it means to be nice to a friend and how to provide a sympathetic gesture when someone they know is sad, but kindness for the greater good is usually beyond their understanding. Gaining a big picture sense of how to be a socially responsible empathetic person can take a lifetime to fully comprehend.
With some adult modeling and guidance, children’s narrow empathetic lens can easily be accelerated by expanding their focus to include a wider range of people, especially surrounding the holiday season. This can be done by talking and modeling what an act of kindness looks like and feels like and celebrating each moment of kindness that your child is involved with.
These acts of kindness can relate to small and big ideas. To understand the ramifications of their actions, children just need to relate to the person or concept they are bestowing kindness on. Here are some examples:
– Remember that babies are always watching you. As much as you can, model small acts of kindness in front of your baby and practice self talk while doing it.
– When you verbalize appreciation for your partner, show your baby a hug, or a smile, so they see you and learn kindness along the way
– When you wash hands with your baby, use self talk to discuss what you’re doing, and why it matters to protect and take care of others
– Virtually, with your child, check up on an elderly person in their life
– Face time with their special friends and model how to tell them that they are missed and ask if there is anything that you can do for them
For Toddlers & Preschool
– If your child personally knows an essential medical worker, send a video that expresses gratitude or do a zoom sing a long meeting with that person
– If you have an elderly neighbor, send over a special piece of art to leave outside their home
– Virtually, with your child, check up on an elderly person in their life. Face time with your child’s special friend and model how to tell them that they are missed and ask if there is anything that you can do for them
– When your child displays kindness of any sort- they are nice to a sibling, they help you with dinner, they give you a spontaneous hug- thank them for the kind gesture
– To carry on this idea on a daily basis, make a kindness calendar. Each day, with your child plan one act of kindness they they would like to accomplish by the end of the day.
Being an empathetic being is a process, but over time your child will master this complex skill by doing one act of kindness at a time. By helping your child become more aware of other people who are not normally on their immediate radar, you are helping to open up their mind and heart to the language of kindness and appreciation and giving them a sense of hope of a brighter tomorrow – an idea that we all need to hang on to in this uncertain time.