Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Foster Kindness


I was inspired by The Family Virtues Guide to notice and bring out the virtues we wish to see in our children. So once a month or so, I'll look at a different virtue and make some simple suggestions of ways we can foster them. So, kindness. I'd love to hear ways that you foster kindness in your homes too, so please let us know in the comments.

In her book Raising Happiness, Christine Carter makes a very interesting observation. She says: “My guess is that most parents hope their children are kind, but few deliberately teach kindness in conscious ways. In young children and adolescents, there is a lot of evidence that parenting practices are significantly associated with kindness in children, meaning that we can, in fact, stack the deck so that our children grow up to be kind and generous adults” (Raising Happiness, p.32).

With this in mind, how can we foster kindness in the children we care for? Here are some ideas I've had. Most you can do with children as soon as they can understand you. As they start to talk, you'll hear the same phrases coming from them:

-Thank people who are kind to you and add a little extra. When someone holds the door open for you, instead of just saying thanks, be a little more explicit. “Thanks for helping me. That's very kind.”

-Acknowledge kindness exhibited by others: “Look! Justin's helping Michael carry the truck up the stairs. That's sure nice of him.”

-'Brainstorm' with your child about how you can be kind to others. “I think it'd be lovely to do something kind for Daddy tonight. What could we do?” Maybe your child could bring him his slippers when he gets home, and you could make him a cup of tea. Or you could offer to hang up his coat for him. Or tell him that you're giving him five minutes of quiet, and you and your child could tiptoe around and whisper while he unwinds from work. What would be kind for dad? You and your child will know.

-Offer help and/or care to others. For example, when you see another child fall down, or an adult stub their toe, ALWAYS stop and ask, “Are you all right?” Often they are fine, but it's kind to ask.

-When you hear another child crying, always acknowledge it to your child. “I hear someone crying! Do you hear it too? Do you think somebody is giving them hugs and kisses?” Imagine out loud what someone might be doing that would be kind to that other little person.

What do you do in your family to foster kindness? What have you seen other families do that inspires you?

...One caveat: DON'T give material rewards for helpfulness. Carter reports in her book that: “Very young children who receive material rewards for helping others become less likely to engage in further helping compared with toddlers who receive only verbal praise or no reward at all.” (Raising Happiness, p.34). Other sources that talk about the deleterious effects of material rewards include the book Punished By Rewards by Alphie Kohn, and a very interesting article on the effects of different types of praise is “The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids,” which I've posted on the Joyful Toddlers Facebook Page.  You can also find it here.

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  1. A powerful tool for fostering kindness for me has been the unfaltering belief in the natural kindness of children. Beliveing and telling children that when they (or myself for that matter) happen upon situations in which they are not being kind it is not because that is their true heartfelt wish - but it is a means to get something they feel they are needing - attention (very often) or what ever it may be. I tell my son at the end of each day that he is a sweet boy, even when we've had a hard day together - because its the truth. Children are kind when given the supportive environments they need. When they are not it is time to look at what we are the big people can do better.

  2. Hilary, thanks for sharing. Seeing our children as their highest selves is a true gift. Helping them to be that highest self as often as they can is a challenge that's worth taking on fresh every day!

  3. While I change my child's diaper, I try and always take the time to talk or sing with him, and kiss his feet. Changing diapers is one of those things that maybe sometimes we as parents forget: this is an opportunity to be mindful and kind - even if we've done it a million times before, to be kind during this time of teaching self care. I think somehow they will internalize these small moments of peace and it will radiate as kindness in their existence.