How can we teach our younger generations to be kind?
World Kindness Day was created in 1998 to encourage kindness worldwide. It is celebrated yearly on November 13 as part of the World Kindness Movement.
It allows us to focus on one of the most essential and fundamental human principles. It aims to spread kindness and empower children by helping them realise that the choices they make can help change people's lives, improve their health and well-being, and ultimately change the world. At every opportunity, we must choose kindness!
The pandemic and other social issues have taken a toll on us emotionally, socially, mentally, and financially. As a result, our tolerance levels are low, which is shown by how we treat each other around the world. As adults, we have forgotten our crucial role when teaching our children how to be kind.
Children look at us as their role models and first point of contact when dealing with situations they do not understand. Our dispositions influence how children handle emotions, regulate behaviour and react to new people. Therefore, we must consider our role as educators to provide our children with a tolerant, happy, healthy world.
Parents and caregivers as role models
From when your baby is born, they begin learning about their new environment and social world and developing communication and language skills from you. They are busy observing their primary carer's gestures, body language, movements, words and sounds. In addition, your little one learns vital skills by imitating and copying your actions and sounds.
Your child is still learning from you and other vital caregivers as they develop. Now, they learn not just from your words and actions but also by following the example and attitudes of their heroes, which is what we are to our children. Therefore, let's evaluate our manners and actions, so our little ones can use us as role models as they learn how to interact appropriately with others.
Use positive language as much as possible
Think about the language you are using with your children. We don't need to change how we talk; we need to adjust certain words in our vocabulary. Using positive language will make a massive difference in how your little one learns to talk to others.
Here are a few examples of how to turn common negative statements into positive ones:
"You were naughty", try instead ", You chose to do the wrong thing."
Avoid negative words such as don't and no: "Stop running in the house"; try instead, "Please walk in the house; you might fall; I wouldn't want you to have an accident. If you want to run, let's go outside".
"Stop shouting"; try instead, "Please use your inside voice; there's no need to shout. I can hear you."
"Stop whining"; try "Please use your words so I can understand you".
Good manners are essential!
Please and thank you
Please and thank you are the foundations of good manners. The more we use them, the more our children will use them too. So, make sure to say please and thank you at every opportunity; not only will you be instilling manners, but you will also show your little one that you respect them.
Our little ones should learn to say thank you for the things they receive, but they should also be taught to thank people who help or serve them, such as waiters in restaurants, bus drivers, and shopkeepers. And even their primary caregivers when they do something for them during their daily routine.
Practice greeting people properly
Showing your little one how to greet people properly is one of the most important skills you can teach him. "Hello, good morning; how are you today?" These are simple, everyday things that we can do. But, as small as it seems, they will go a long way when your children begin interacting with others.
When talking to your little one, get down to their level and give them eye contact, this way, they will learn to look people in the eye and face them directly.
Girl and Boy sharing eggs bucket
For toddlers, it is all about them, "me" and "mine" is their favourite words! Supporting their sharing skills from an early age will reinforce their understanding of others' emotions and help them learn how to interact socially.
Share with your little one from the start, and play games in which you have to take turns! Use the words such as "My turn, your turn" as you point to yourself and to them to support understanding.
Children often play with a toy and leave it to play with something else, but as soon as one of their peers begins playing with it, they will come back, snatch it and say, "Mine!".
Try getting down to your child's level and explain in simple words, "That was not very nice; it made Todd feel very sad; we do not snatch; we share".
Discussing feelings will support their understanding of the situation and give them the tools to react differently if the same situation arises.
Children can be very unkind to one another, not because of malice but because they are beginning to understand and interact socially with the world around them. It happens because of their inability to understand and share the feelings of their peers. In other words, they are just beginning to learn to put themselves in someone else's shoes, a difficult concept to understand as a young child.
Learning about their emotions and understanding others is part of their emotional development. These are the first steps in supporting them to develop sympathy and empathy later in life.
Talk about emotions daily
Don't be afraid to express your emotions; be open to vulnerability. Teach your little one it's OK to be cross or sad and tell them you sometimes feel the same. You can help them explore emotions together by playing guessing games, pulling faces, and letting them copy you.
Make it a habit to check in with your little one and listen to how they're feeling. This lets them know you're available if they need to talk.
Asking children specific questions about their day is very helpful for their emotional understanding. It can help them recognise their emotions and find ways to cope. For example, "How did that make you feel?", "How did you feel when Sam did not choose you to play?".
Describe and label emotions
Help your little one recognise their emotions and body, for example,
"I can see you clenched your fists; you seemed angry."
"You are dancing. You seem very happy today!"
In addition, when dealing with your little one's emotions, it is essential to remember to use phrases that will not dismiss your child's feelings. Instead, use words that let them know they're being heard and that their feelings matter.
For example, if your child feels scared, don't say, "There's nothing to be scared of!" Instead, help label the emotion and provide comfort:
"You're feeling scared; I'm here with you."
Or if your little one gets upset, don't say, "Don't be sad; be happy", which may make them feel ashamed of their feelings.
Instead, try saying, "I can see you're upset, and that's OK," or "I can see you're feeling sad. Do you want to talk about it?"
Pretend play helps children understand and practice kindness
Pretend play is also a great way to practise empathy. Asking open-ended questions will encourage discussion and allow you to point out differences and situations without making a judgement, as young children cannot form their own opinions yet.
For example, "There is only one cupcake left, but you have two babies; what can you do?", or "Your teddy fell. What do you think we should do about it?"
As children get older, asking them to imagine more complicated real-life scenarios will further support their understanding.
You can begin to discuss more complex issues regarding how to be kind.
Remember to model empathy even when you're upset with your little one. This reinforces the idea that empathy can and should be used even when disappointed, hurt, or angry. In addition, the more children receive kindness, the more likely they are to offer it to others.
Books are a fantastic tool to teach children the concept of overall kindness. As you read stories with your little one, ask how the characters in the storybooks might feel and what the other characters should do to help.
Stories such as Julia Donaldson's Sharing a Shell, The Smartest Giant in town, and The Selfish Crocodile by Faustin Charles are great stories to talk about feelings and what the characters can do to be kind.
Teaching about the wider world is crucial for children to understand diversity and learn tolerance.
Teaching our children from an early age about our similarities and differences in people regarding gender, culture, abilities, and looks is a vital part of their development. In addition, it exposes them to the broader world, teaching them that we are not all the same. Still, we are all essential to society, teaching them tolerance and acceptance.
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