In the early years, it's easy to have rotating nicknames for our little ones as their behavior changes. They're our balls of energy, eating machines, giggle boxes, and sometimes our little terrors. Their behaviors can run the gamut, but no matter how fast they're moving or how much they're eating, they're always soaking up everything that's happening around them. No matter what situation they encounter, they're always our little sponges. If we want to raise kind kids, we've got to be mindful of everything they absorb.
After over 20 years in education, I can certainly say I found very few exceptions to the phrase, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Being kind parents is the first step toward raising kind kids. As they watch our interactions with others and are impacted by how we interact with them, our children are picking up on all of the behavioral cues, both verbal and nonverbal, that we display. You aren't going to "teach" kindness over the course of a weekend by practicing kindness on a repetitive schedule like a crash course on potty training. Kindness isn't something we can check off a list and be done with like tying shoes or zipping jackets. We have to lead by example and make kindness a part of everyday life.
Our everyday acts of kindness will make the biggest impact. If we bake cookies for a new neighbor, we can't just say to our kids that we did this to be kind and expect a lesson to be learned. We need to have a conversation about the feelings that come with new experiences and help our kids find a way to relate. Maybe we remind them of their first time at gymnastics or a new play group and a person who made them feel welcome or how nice it would've been if someone had done so. By shedding a light on the feelings of others, we are giving our children a chance to empathize and understand how their own acts of kindness can make a difference in someone else's life while also bringing positive fulfillment to their own.
As we lead by example, we need to ensure that the other influences our kids encounter are also exemplifying kindness. The quality of our children's viewing choices can have a big influence on their behavior. We shared the impacts of too much screen time with Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time1, and it's important to be mindful and limit the number of programs, movies, and videos we let our youngsters view. There are lots of enticing characters and shows that are marketed toward preschoolers and other early learners, but we need to be aware of the messages being sent by the characters and situations on these programs.
Many such shows feature a questionable character that doesn't exhibit positive behavior or kindness. Kids are easily distracted and can miss that final message where a character learns his/her lesson and knows a poor choice was made. Kids also enjoy reenacting plots and storylines, and there are many behaviors and scenarios that I don't want to see my kids emulating even if they're followed by an apology or behavior change. We can't just click on the remote and walk away; we must be selective with screen time choices and be prepared to discuss the positive and negative actions of characters. These are great opportunities to talk about the effects of when kindness is or isn't shown.
Preschoolers also absorb and are influenced by the positive and negative behaviors of their peers. Whether Tommy at daycare is pulling hair or Susie down the street donated some toys to a homeless shelter, we need to be aware of the actions of our children's peers. It's important to talk to our kids about friends at daycare or in the neighborhood and the behavioral choices they make. Helping our kids understand when kindness is or isn't shown by their peers can help them understand the importance of making positive peer choices. This is a life lesson that will benefit them at any age as they begin to recognize the quality of kindness in themselves and look for it in others.
By working to make kindness an everyday part of our lives, we are paving the way for raising kind kids. Being selective in programming and talking with our kids about the behaviors they see in the real world will help them understand the importance of being kind to others. Let's surround our little ones with kindness and let them absorb an understanding of why it matters.
Backpack Bonus: Ideas to tuck away for another day.
Love this fun twist on Simon Says from The Artful Parent! Simon Says Twist
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. Pulling the Plug on Pre-K Screen Time