We know it’s important to be kind, but kindness is not always an inherent trait. For many kids, it’s a learned skill that can grow with practice.
“It’s not unusual for a parent to meet with me and express that their child is simply not kind to their friends, or to other people,” said Nachman Friedman, JF&CS Clinician, who works largely with kids and teens. “The good news is, we can work on strengthening the muscle of kindness in our kids.”
What is Kindness?
Kindness seems like a simple enough concept, but there are actually three ways we express it to others: through friendliness, generosity. and consideration. These qualities overlap a lot but are not mutually exclusive.
“Say there are two kids,” said Nachman, “and one has a snack that the other wants. He is nice to his friend but won’t share his snack; this is an example of friendliness without generosity. This isn’t a bad thing. We don’t always have to share, and we can find ways to be kind without giving up too much of ourselves.”
From Consideration to Compassion:
When working with kids towards becoming compassionate adults, it helps to understand the steps that move us toward compassion. Step one is consideration, which we can define as thinking about, or considering, other people. From there we move to empathy, which is when we share other peoples’ emotions and understand their perspective. When we are considerate and empathetic, we know where the person is coming from and act accordingly; this is known as expressing compassion.
“Our emotions are complex and intense but can change based on how we perceive and understand others’ perspectives,” said Nachman. “When it comes to our kids, if we can help them understand and have empathy for others, that will lead to them acting on their empathy, and showing compassion.”
Two Ways to Work the Kindness Muscle:
1. Build what Nachman refers to as a “house full of kindness.”
“I encourage others to get in the habit of a daily recount of positivity or kindness they experienced, or a good deed or mitzvah they did,” said Nachman. “Actively fostering a home culture of kindness is incredibly effective; the power of perspective will enhance our children’s kindness and empathy,” he said. “If your house is a house where people are excited to help and the thing to do is to be helpful, then all of a sudden it will be contagious to be considerate and compassionate towards one another.”
2. Encourage unrecognized good deeds: Doing the right thing, particularly when no one else knows, “builds our self-esteem and boosts our confidence,” said Nachman. “Studies show that those who are kind, happy and friendly to others have better physical and mental health, and research shows that kindness is correlated with lowered stress.”
Unrecognized good deeds can be small actions like throwing away litter without telling anyone, and doing so builds the idea central to kindness: that we are not just here for ourselves; we’re here to help others.
“There are many benefits to being kind,” concludes Nachman. “It’s a worthy pursuit to help our kids strengthen that muscle, whether it’s through random acts of kindness or having the environment of kindness in our household and within us as parents. It makes us better parents, and makes our children better children, and better friends to one another.”
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