image source: The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse
Children have an inborn capacity for compassion and seem to naturally identify with other kids and underdogs. I watched my son, Michael, as a toddler, cry tears of empathy while watching The Red Balloon day after day for years. This 34 minute short by Albert Lamorisse was my favorite childhood movie and remains one of the most beloved children’s films of all time. It is a deceptively simply and mostly wordless tale that follows a young boy who discovers a stray balloon that he follows around the streets of Paris. The two become inseparable, but the friendship is not to be as the harshness of life ultimately interferes. Though children are generally kind and have a sense of responsibility toward others, this wonderful characteristic musty compete with other developmental forces such as limited impulse control. Though they may love the family cat, they may not be able to stop themselves from wanting to see what happens when they pull its tail.
With so much ugliness and turmoil in the world today, it is more important than ever to raise kids who can understand and be kind to other people. You have tremendous influence as a parent to nurture your child’s ability to empathize. Temperament plays a role as some kids are innately more tuned in to the feelings of others, but day by day you can foster loving behavior in small doses by being a good role model.
We’ve put together a list of our 12 top suggestions on how to help teach your child to be thoughtful and kind:
Show your child how to be gentle.
When you see your child being rough with another child, you may know he/she is just trying to be friendly. Instead of punishment, you can demonstrate how to be gentle by physically guiding their hands in a light touch. Explain that they can show love with their hands.
Teach your child ways to treat people and things with care to help develop the understanding that actions have consequences. For example, If a toy breaks due to roughness, do not replace it immediately. Your child’s sadness is hard to watch, but it is important to let them feel regret and know to be more gentle next time.
I learned early on if I yelled at my kids, they yelled back. Speaking softly will model how to treat others. Words and your tone of voice matter. If you show warmth and caring, your child may do the same for others. Encourage them to hug another child if you see them crying.
Say I’m sorry
We all have bad days. Teach your child that we all make mistakes and demonstrate that even mom apologizes when innappropriately short-tempered.
Use manners to connect.
Talk to your child about how we’re all connected. Teach that every job is important and all people deserve respect. The farmer grows the food, we throw out the peels or waste, and the trash collector picks it up. Good manners, which keep us coexisting harmoniously, are one way to show compassion. It is easy and important to say “thank you”. Make good manners part of the daily routine.
Some people laugh when their child is rude, thinking it is cute. Chances are the child does not intend to be cruel and may just be looking for attention. However, you must emphasize that everyone deserves respect, including you. Firmly but kindly let your child know the behavior is not OK by saying “no”.
Enforce rules and give consequences.
Set limits and be consistent to help your toddler realize their behavior affects others. Not being consistent sends mixed messages.If a behavior is wrong, it needs to be wrong all the time. For example, hitting is not acceptable, period, no matter what else is going on at the moment. The consequence should be immediate, fit the behavior and be age appropriate.
Help your child figure out how to be a friend by paying attention during playdates. Outlaw name-calling and encourage your toddler to be inclusive of others. Being nice to others needs to be the rule, even if your child does not like the other. Comment on thoughtfulness you observe. Children like positive reinforcement.
Don’t gossip or make negative comments
Kids are always listening. How we talk on a daily basis about our own siblings, parents, and relatives tells them a lot. If children hear us saying something negative, they learn that it’s okay to talk that way. Demonstrate you have a spirit of kindness and generosity.
Children don’t just watch TV, movies and video games, they internalize them. Turn off the media where characters are hitting or name-calling, or at least have a conversation so they understand why the behavior is not acceptable.Encourage media that does not contain negative behavior.
The habit of helping others starts with contributing at home. Assign manageable age appropriate tasks to your children Post on a chart on the refrigerator so they can keep track of what needs to be done.
Set your standards high. Expect your kids to be caring and compassionate. Don’t let teasing or bullying go unaddressed. At 7 and 8, kids start to be able to see the world from another person’s perspective. In a complicated and troubled world, it’s easy to feel that their behavior is inconsequential.Help your kids understand we create a better world one interaction at a time.
Know that toddlers don’t have a very consistent long-term memory, so you may have to repeat your lessons many times. As they grow up, their considerate and helpful behavior will become more of a habit.