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Children (and adults) are more likely to be engaged and involved in something they helped create or develop. With this concept in mind, brainstorming ideas on how to be kind as a family should instil a sense of ownership in kids that helps them feel excited about practising kindness.
You can brainstorm as a family with open-ended questions like, “What was something kind you saw someone do lately—big or small?” Write down your children’s’ responses on a whiteboard or sheet of paper and break them into two categories (big vs. small), but be sure to emphasise the importance of small acts of kindness in addition to grand gestures.
You can also have children brainstorm independently by passing out a note or card to each child and instructing each one to write down something nice that someone else did for them lately and how it made them feel. Once the children are done, collect the notes/cards and read them aloud in order to help the children understand acts of kindness.
Once children understand what acts of kindness are, introduce them to the idea of random acts of kindness. Sharing this idea with children can encourage them to show kindness to their friends and families in unexpected ways.
One method is to use complimentary notes or positive sticky notes. Provide the children with a supply of sticky notes and explain that anyone can take a sticky note at any time and write down a compliment for another family or group member. They should sneak the sticky note to that member’s bed when he or she is not looking to make it truly random and fun.
Another method is to use thank-you notes. Give your children some time to write down their appreciation for someone who recently did something nice for them, and encourage them to deliver their notes as soon as they can.
Challenging your children to a competition can be an effective motivator for increasing kindness. In this challenge, children will recognise when someone does something nice for them unexpectedly and surprise others with random acts of kindness themselves.
Give the children a goal to meet, such as performing three kind acts per week or noticing five kind acts per week. To keep them excited about the challenge, give them star stickers to add to a chart or a paper cutout to stick on a board or refrigerator when they meet their goal.
While you are encouraging children to be kinder to others, make sure to practice some kindness yourself. Give each child at least one compliment before the end of the day. Before letting your children go to bed, tell them that you purposely complimented each of them during the day and that you noticed a positive change in the family mood. Explain that these positive changes are common outcomes of practising kindness.
Depending on how old your children are, you might want to read them one of these age-appropriate books about practising kindness.
For kindergarteners to second-graders, Nancy Elizabeth Wallace’s The Kindness Quilt is a good book to read and discuss.
For more advanced readers, Carol McCloud’s Have You Filled a Bucket Today? will teach students the idea that everyone carries an invisible bucket that can be filled with compliments and kindness.
Finally, you can use rewards and positive reinforcement to encourage more kindness in the family or group. This can be as simple as a moment of praise or a sticker, or something more personal like a kindness card or a certificate of kindness.
You can even recruit the other children to help you pass out rewards for children caught being kind.
Many of these can be adapted for use in the neighbourhood as well as the home.
However, the most important thing to remember when it comes to teaching kindness is to model the behaviour you hope to see in the children—be kind yourself, and they will be more likely to mirror that kindness.