Teach it. Kindness is a combination of several different qualities you can help your kid develop. Here are some worth cultivating.
Empathy. Kindness, like other prosocial Character-istics (e.g., Compassion, Generosity), requires understanding of others feelings; viewing things from their perspective. It is important to help your kid “walk a mile in their shoes.” Take the time to talk about how the world looks to someone else. Help your kid understand how different life circumstances can lead to a sometimes radically different view of possibilities and opportunities.
Benevolent expectancies and interpretations. If you think someone else means you harm or is an undeserving or bad person, you are not likely to think kindly of them. Your kid needs to be forgiving and positive when imagining other’s motives. To be Kind, they will need to make situational explanation (e.g., he must be tired, she must be afraid) rather than dispositional (e.g., he is inherently evil, she is a completely selfish person who can’t ever change). Make sure your kid has kind words to say about people who are both in need and even those who are jerks.
Collaborative, cooperative and considerate. Ambition, competitiveness and determination make it possible to get ahead in the world (though not in relationships). Unfortunately, if you are oriented toward crushing your opponents and erasing any evidence of their existence it is more difficult to be kind. Help your kid learn how to temper their ambition with collaboration, integrate competitiveness with cooperation and balance their determination with consideration for others.
Smelling the roses. When your day is completely scheduled and you are late to everything, it is difficult to feel kindly toward others (because they are GOING TOO SLOW). Make sure your kid makes time to slow down and look around. Help them notice the beauty in the world and the kindness shown by others in everyday situations.
Feeling lucky and blessed. If your kid believes that everyone else gets the break THEY deserve, that life has cheated them, that getting something means others must go without, they will be much less likely to consider Kindness as a desirable Characteristic. Make a point to help your kid recognize the blessings in their life (and the blessings that others experience). Help them be happy for others’ successes and lucky breaks.
Humility. To be kind, your kid must be able to be selfless. They are not the most important person in the world and that their problems are not the worst problems. They need to appreciate that there are many reasons someone succeeds with personal effort being just one (and not always the most influential). When you notice signs of self-centeredness in your kid, make a point to have them notice the difficulties of others who have overcome adversity. Make sure they give credit where credit is due for successes and accomplishments, even their own (meaning the many different people who helped along the way).
Joy. Kindness is easy to demonstrate when you feel happy. Help your kid make sure they have joy in their life. Singing, dancing, hobbies, walking in nature, laughter; these are all derivatives of (and sources of) joy. Find ways to include them in your family life.
Anticipate it. It is important to talk to your kid about what the future will be like for them. This provides hope and it also indicates what kind of adult you expect them to be. Make comments that predict Kindness in their adult life. “That is just the sort of thing that will make you a wonderful adult.” “I don’t know what I would do if you turned out to be someone who was mean to people.” “You are a lot like your Uncle Jeff. He is such a kind man and everyone loves him for it.”
Encourage it. Kids need to be encouraged to behave in ways you think most appropriate and desirable. Be sure to find ways to nudge your kids toward Kindness to others. “How do you think you could help that person out even though you don’t really have to?” “That person looks like they could use a Kind word. See what you can do.” You might even consider setting up Kindness competitions within the family. Who was able to show Kindness to someone else without them knowing it?
Guilt it. And, of course, un-Kindness toward others deserves comment, and censure (but not humiliation). It will be important to express your disappointment, concern, frustration and even anger. Remind them how important they found Kindness shown to them. Talk to them about the importance of being the sort of person who does Kind deeds for others without needing to have recognition or reward. Have them rededicate themselves to being a Kind person.
Repeat it. Just like you can’t show too much Kindness; you also can’t repeat it too often.
A word about hate watching and reality TV. Hate TV has become a spectator sport. Put people on a stage, in a news report or on a reality television show and jeer as they are humiliated (or humiliate themselves). It is shocking. It is fascinating. It is horrifying. It is secretly gratifying. It is disgusting. It makes us feel better about our own lives. It also sends the message that other’s pain, life difficulties, tragedy and misery is merely entertainment. Avoid it if you can. If you find yourself participating, it is important to make sure that you draw attention to the sad and destructive aspects of the situation and circumstances. It will create a MAJOR downer for your kids. It’s worth it. Let them get their secret glee at other’s misfortunes where humans have always derived it-the neighbors and friends. The affection and love you have for people you know will help temper this nasty little human fault and keep it from getting out of hand.
Selfless acts of Kindness are uniquely human. Make sure your kid lives up to their potential as a member of humanity.