Kids For Kindness :
One day my fourth-grader found himself out in the hall at school,
struggling with a math assignment.
As my son stared glumly at the math paper on the desk in front of him, a
fifth-grader who was walking by stopped and asked, "Do you need
"Yeah, I was absent and I don't know how to do this," my son answered.
The fifth-grader, who had never met my son before, gave him exactly
the information needed to complete the assignment.
Two years later, my son remembers the fifth-grader's timely help.
Even better, my son remembers the older boy's example of
We all want our kids to develop empathy -- that essential knack for
understanding how another person feels and responding with kindness.
We want our children to grow up to be thoughtful, compassionate adults
who are "tuned in" to the feelings and needs of others.
Fortunately, some simple, effective strategies can help empathy bloom
as our children grow. Here are five strategies that busy parents can use:
1. Help your child describe his or her own feelings.
Kids need to be able to label their own feelings in order to understand
how others feel. "Mad," "sad," and "happy" will probably be the starting
point. From there, your child can learn words like "disappointed,"
"surprised," "excited," "scared," "thankful," "left out," and more.
So, when a child has a strong feeling, we can lay a foundation for
empathy by helping our child put the feeling into words.
2. Help your child learn to read facial expressions and body
Point out facial expressions and other "body-language" clues to feelings
when you look at pictures together. You might also "freeze-frame"
videos to call attention to characters' faces and body positions.
You could also play a game of "Feeling Theater." List some "feeling
words" on paper. Choose one and act it out, using just your facial
expression and body language, and have your child guess the feeling
you're trying to express. Then reverse roles.
3. Discuss how actions influence feelings.
For example, you could say, "Grandma looked so happy when you said
thank you for her gift! Did you see her big smile?"
We can also point out how behavior mistakes affect feelings: "Did you
see how that little girl put her head down after the other kids kept her out
of their game? How do you think she was feeling?"
4. Provide models of empathy.
When we treat our child with empathy, we provide not only emotional
nourishment but also a model of kindness that our child can imitate. It's
especially valuable to show empathy when our child has made a
mistake, such as knocking over a glass or milk or accidentally tracking
mud into the house.
We can also point out real-life examples of empathy in the news, in
history, in our neighborhood or in our faith community.
5. Give plenty of practice.
Watch for opportunities to practice empathy. For example, when you're
at a playground or park you might say, "That little girl looks lonely. Do
you think you could see if she wants to play with you?" Or, when you're
at home you could say, "Dad looks hot and tired. How about if we take
him a glass of lemonade?"
Of course, the more we can involve our child in acts of kindness, the
better. Cooking meals as a family to take to a homeless shelter or
making get-well cards for sick relatives can help make empathy a habit.
When your child does a kind deed, comment on it. "Oh, you're
helping me clean up the juice I spilled -- that's being KIND! Thank you!"
Author Mimi Doe suggests putting a piece of paper on the refrigerator
door where family members can record their kind deeds. Such a
strategy can help your family create a "culture" of empathy and
With these small, everyday steps, you'll gently guide your child on
the road to becoming a thoughtful, compassionate adult.