We are celebrating a long weekend and we are all looking forward to a day off for Martin Luther King Day. But, what is this day all about, other than a day to be lazy, catch up on errands, or have more quality family time? How can we incorporate his message into our family's daily routines?
MLK day reminds me to be kind to others. Sometimes, this is hard to do and even harder for our children to understand.
How do we define kindness to our kids?
What are some ways we can help them learn that kindness can become a way of life?
Catherine Newman asked her friends and family to define kindness and they said, "compassion, generosity, empathy, justice, alleviating suffering. But every answer involved an underlying consideration for others, rather than acting only out of self-interest. It makes sense that this is also the definition of humane, because kindness is the most fundamental expression of what it means to be a human being."
Another definition is, "Kindness is about "seeing with your heart," explains Angela C. Santomero.
Here are some ways to define kindness for your children:
1. Help Kids Understand What Kindness Means
Start talking about kindness and ways to act kindly when your children are young. Kindness is an intuitive feeling, and children intuitively feel what others feel.
Does your toddler sometimes cry when they see another child fall down? That's being empathetic, and it's the perfect opportunity to articulate that experience: "You feel sad because you care about your friend and you see she hurt herself."
You can also help your children see that some words or actions are hurtful to others. Does your toddler grab toys from his siblings or friends on a playdate? You can show him that his friend is sad that he can't play with the toys. Show him how happy everyone is by sharing, and you will reinforce kindness.
2. Use Playtime to Model Kindness
Play time is another way for your child to practice empathy. For example, if your child drops her doll while playing, you can pick it up and say, "Oh, I hope your doll isn't hurt. Should we give her boo boo a kiss to make her feel all better?" As you model thoughtful ways to react and respond to a situation, your child learns how to react using kindness, and these responses become part of their daily life.
Educators often encourage reading to children, and reading books together is another way to experience feelings. We can relate the character's feelings and the story to our own lives, and that shows our kids how others may experience empathy and kindness.
3. Encourage Kind Habits
Practice small acts of kindness all day long. Reminding our little ones to use manners, like saying "please and thank you", or offering to help set the table for dinner are ways to incorporate kindness in our daily lives. These small acts can add up to large acts of kindness when they become part of our routines. And, our children will begin to think of other ways to be kind to others, without being reminded. For example, they might share their legos on a playdate, and tell you how happy their friend is because she was able to build a castle. Your child will feel proud of himself, and you can point out how kind he is and how happy everyone is. In this way, we are creating routines and habits of kindness that your child can see and continue to practice.
4. Remember That Kindness Isn't Easy But Look At Its Positive Effects
It isn't always easy to be kind. Your children will fight over the toys, or whose turn it is to feed the dog. Our job as parents and caregivers is to remind our children to try to understand how the other person is feeling. It's also important to encourage your child to take ownership of his actions; for example, if he won't help clean up after playtime, you can show him that it's taking everyone even longer to get to the next activity. If he would lend a hand, the job would be finished so much faster.
Remind your children that kindness impacts everyone - the person who is being kind and the person who receives the generous act. Doesn't everyone feel good when we practice kindness?
The more we practice kindness, the more natural it becomes, and you will see that kindness will become part of the natural habits and routines in your family.
Comment below and/or reach out to tell me about the ways you and your family practice kindness.
If your family has sleep and/or behavior challenges, contact me at any time to chat.