Good parents want their children to grow up to be nice people. They don’t set out to raise a meanie. However, they may be inadvertently doing exactly that. What parents reinforce in their children is what they become. A news report of a study by the Making Caring Common project found that “About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’”
Parents need to pay attention to what they're putting their emphasis on with their kids. In this report Harvard Psychologist Richard Weissbourd said, “Instead of saying to your kids: ‘The most important thing is that you’re happy,’ say ‘The most important thing is that you’re kind.’”
Kids need to learn early that if they are kind to others they have a far greater chance of being happy. This short video shows a twelve-year-old being kind to another boy. Watch the happy expressions on both boys’ faces as a result of his actions. The boy who showed the kindness then gave a powerful message for parents. When asked by the reporter why he did it he said, “My mom and dad taught me that way, so it’s just kinda . . . like . . . natural.”
Making it natural
Here are 6 suggestions to help your children know how to treat others.
1. Treat your children kindly
If you have the habit of bossing your kids around all day like a drill sergeant you can expect that they may well do the same to others. Instead, when you want your children to do something, ask them politely. Such as, “Tommy, please hang up your coat on the coat rack.” When he does it, say, “Thank you. That helps keep our home neat and, also, it helps you to always know where to find your coat.” If he doesn’t do it, kindly help him do it right then so he knows you mean it, just don’t be mean about it. No yelling. And still thank him. Being kind teaches kindness.
2. Be gentle
If you are continually smacking your kids when they do something wrong, they will learn that hitting is the way to force people into doing what you want. If your child is not listening to you, you might try this: stop, gently take her face in your hands and calmly say, “I said . . .” gently repeating the behavior you want. When you are looking your child in the eyes and giving directions calmly it teaches gentleness.
3. Make sure the TV programs they watch show characters being kind
There are too many current programs that teach kids to be disrespectful. When they see a continual barrage of cartoon characters or real-life characters being rude to each other, they will automatically do the same. If you see it happening before you have a chance to monitor what’s on the screen, point out to them that it’s wrong to treat people that way, and change the channel or turn off the TV. Do the research and be in charge of what your children watch.
4. Take them to church
They can learn important lessons on kindness during a Sunday School lesson. Learning the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you— from a loving teacher can be very effective. Enlisting others to help teach kindness to your children is smart parenting. You are your child’s most important teacher, but it’s always helpful to have additional witnesses to the fact.
5. Speak respectfully about others
Show them by your example that it’s unkind to say bad things about other people. If they hear you badmouthing a neighbor or friend, they’ll pick up on it quickly and do the same. Show them how to handle situations when you’re upset at someone. Instead of saying bad things about them you look for the good in that person. If it’s a serious problem, help them understand that going to the person and kindly talking it out is the best solution. Much better than gossiping about it to someone else.
6. Let them see you helping others
If someone falls, help him up. If your children aren’t there to see you do this, talk to them about what happened. Let them know how kind it is to help someone in need, and how good it makes you feel. To help teach this concept, play the "what if" game. What if a student dropped his lunch tray, what would you do? Let him think of options that show kindness. Present different situations that might happen at school or on the play ground that will provide an opportunity for kindness. You’ll be happily surprised to see how many kind things your children will think of that they could do in those situations.
Be an actively involved parent in showing and teaching the principles of kindness. Help them understand that being kind is the best path to a happy life for them and the ones receiving the kindness.
Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer and lyricist. Together they author books on relationships, including "Wake-up Call: What Every Husband Needs to Know". Their website is garyjoylundberg.com