5 Ways to Teach Kindness to Kids

Do kids value kindness? According to the Highlights 2017 State of the Kid survey, they do!

We polled 2,000 kids ages 6–12 to get their views on kindness and empathy, click here to watch what they had to say. When we asked, “What would you change in the world if you could change one thing?” more than half of the responses related to kindness.  

But when we asked, “What do you think is most important to your parents—that you’re happy, do well in school, or are kind?” only 23 percent of the kids said that it matters most to parents that they are kind. Almost half responded that their happiness matters most, and about one-third said that it’s most important that they do well in school. But, when Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, surveyed parents and asked the same question, the majority of parents said that what matters most is that their children are kind. The dissonance is concerning.

Is the message that kindness matters getting lost in the swirl of other messages kids are receiving about achievement and personal fulfillment? Is the importance of having concern for others getting buried in the noise of our me-first culture? So it seems.  

If you want to be clear with your kids that kindness truly matters—and that, indeed, they can make the world a better place with acts of caring and kindness—try teaching more intentionally. Here are five suggestions for activities that will raise your family’s kindness quotient:

  1. Foster gratitude, a key ingredient in kindness. Gratitude cultivates positivity. It brings into focus the things in life that truly matter, and primes us to be kinder. One good way to practice gratitude is to keep a family gratitude journal. Once a week (whatever cadence works for you, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore), invite family members to make an entry—a note about something for which they are thankful. Young kids can dictate their entry to you, draw a picture instead of writing, or paste in a photo. Try to keep the focus on people or events rather than on things. For example, rather than “I’m thankful for my toy truck,” try for “I’m thankful for Grandpa who knew I’d love the truck he gave me.” Or take an occasional Gratitude Walk, observing your surroundings and naming things for which you are grateful (your helpful neighbors, the friendly dog next door, or playmates down the street).
  2. Mix up the dinner-table conversation. Instead of asking your kids “How was your day?” invite them to tell you something they did that day that was kind or describe a kind thing someone did for them. This can lead to some great conversation that will give you a chance to reinforce the value you place on kindness, compassion, and empathy.
  3. Give kids practice being kind. Before leaving on an errand or outing, decide as a family to look for opportunities for random acts of kindness. Encourage your kids to hold a door open for someone or return someone’s shopping cart to the store. Leave a quarter in the gum ball machine, or pay for another customer’s coffee at the coffee shop and see how pleased and excited that makes your kids!
  4. Read good children’s books and magazines together. They can throw open windows to the world, introducing us to unfamiliar places and new ideas. Choose stories with characters who are kind, who exhibit moral courage, and who are sensitive to the needs of others. According to research, fiction is great for helping readers see a situation through the eyes of someone else, and that’s how we learn empathy. Here’s a list of books to get you started.
  5. Schedule Family Game Night, with a twist. Leave the old stand-bys on the shelf and instead choose games that help foster empathy and caring. You can find countless suggestions online for both making and playing kindness-themed games. Try “Kindness Bingo,” a game you can play all week. Create a “Bingo” card to hang on the refrigerator. In each square, briefly describe an act of kindness that would be meaningful to your family: Call Grandma to see how she’s feeling. Help the neighbor rake his leaves. Make a thank-you card for the school crossing guard. Bake cookies to take to the neighborhood fire station. When your family completes enough kind acts to call “Bingo!” offer a small, fun reward. The reward should be simple—think “extended bedtime” or a favorite dessert. Emphasize the intrinsic reward—the happiness that comes from knowing you’ve made someone’s day.  

The more opportunities we give kids to show caring and concern for others, the greater the likelihood they will become the change agents they want to be, helping to create a kinder world.  

Christine French Cully

Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....