The holiday season is full of stories of unexpected generosity. Children think of presents: looking forward in anticipation to receiving holiday treats. Some songs of the season teach children to they earn these gift. A famous jingle about Santa rings, “so be good for goodness sake!” Kindness is about more than earning gifts. Kindness is about giving without getting back. And as much as we like to credit ourselves for our own virtues, kindness is learned. As we model kindness, the mirror neurons of a watching child start to fire—he or she learns to how to be kind.
Harvard’s educational department agrees that kindness is not a given for children but must be taught. With research, initiatives, and campaigns, their Marking Caring Common project seeks to assist “educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice.”
Teaching kindness takes intentional effort. This season, can you give your children the gift of a kind spirit? How can we teach our children—all year round—to practice kindness?
- A simple way is through body language. Engage those mirror neurons by exchanging frequent smiles, hugs, and high fives.
- Point out kindness when you see it. When a stranger puts money in a Salvation Army tin, name the kindness. Before bed or at dinner recount the kindnesses of the day. Physical markers (such as stickers on a kindness chart) help make this abstract a concrete.
- Value the experience of your child’s peers: while it is tempting for parents and caregivers to always prioritize the happiness and experience of their own child, modeling empathy for other children teaches kindness. Help your child hand out dessert to others before helping themselves. Congratulate other students on behaviors and performances, and encourage your child to give high-fives and compliments.
A kind spirit is a gift which will last a lifetime: start building it now.