In a Harvard study, 80 percent of the children interviewed said when asked, that their parents were more concerned with their happiness and success than whether or not they are caring people. These results may surprise you, but when you think about it, we spend a great deal of time emphasizing both happiness and success when it comes to the choices our children make. We pack their afternoons with activities that will make them feel good and will also look good on college applications and later support even the questionable life paths of our adult children by stating, “I just want them to be happy.” So, it’s understandable that many young people assume happiness and success are a priority for us, whether we explicitly state this or not. How often do we truly guide our children through decisions based on what is the more caring thing to do?
Not often enough.
Caring kids are kids who know how to listen to others, problem-solve, and offer help. (They are the kids you hope your child invites over for a play date!) Ultimately, how well our children get along on the playground and in the classroom is a keen indicator of success later in life. By raising caring kids, we are, by default, raising kids who have the one fundamental skill needed to live a truly fulfilling and rewarding existence: kindness.
Raising a kind kid isn’t about making sure your child is popular. It’s more about raising a good person – someone who is fundamentally kind and compassionate. These qualities have little to do with whether a child is shy or outgoing, athletic or artistic, emotional or studious. Above all else, a kind kid is someone who gets along with others and knows how to be a team player.
Kind kids are:
Our young people are becoming increasingly connected to media of all sorts, which gives them fewer and fewer opportunities to interact with others in person. In all honesty, adults are not immune from this phenomenon. We can have whole conversations via text, without ever having to read someone’s nonverbal cues. Teach your children to be good listeners by listening to them. Ask them open-ended questions and make eye contact. Refrain from finishing their sentences. This is especially hard with little ones who are still expanding their vocabulary and take long pauses as they search for the words they need to express themselves. Be patient. Show them you’re interested in how they feel and what they think by giving them the space to tell you, and they will learn to give the same space to others.
Conflict is part of all relationships. What sets kind kids apart from the… um, not-so-kind kids is their ability to resolve conflict with others. We don’t have to agree with everyone we come in contact with; we don’t even have to like them. But we do have to get along. Teaching kids how to show others respect despite differences sets them up for success in the classroom, and later in the workplace. Talk about current events; ask them what they would do in a similar situation. Discuss the television shows and movies you watch together, the choices the characters make, and how they might do things differently. Identify the kind choice in each situation. Teach them that even hard decisions can be carried out with compassion, that on the other side of every choice is a person who is impacted by our actions. Oftentimes we have to weigh a choice that makes us happy against a choice that helps another. Kind kids learn how to take the thoughts and feelings of others into consideration, and when possible, compromise in order to benefit all parties involved.
Kabbalists teach that helping others and sharing selflessly leads to spiritual transformation, aside from being the right thing to do. Teaching our kids to care about the world starts when we make a habit of helping out. Let them see you volunteer your time. Clear your schedule on a Sunday and donate your time as a family to a cause you all believe in. Become active at your child’s school – bake cookies for the school fundraiser, donate supplies to the classroom, or run copies for the teacher. Create opportunities for your kids to help out in the home and make your expectations clear. No need to over-praise them for their contributions; doing chores and cleaning up after yourself is simply what it takes to be a team player in a household.
When we model how to be kind, we teach our children to be kind, too. Learning to have positive interactions with friends and strangers, and to care for their wellbeing, sets our kids up for success later in life. Take the time to acknowledge the extraordinary acts of kindness your children do in the world. Build their self-confidence; show them what to strive for. My husband, Michael Berg, says, “Ultimately, we need to come to the point where out of all the moments in our day when we had the choice between clenching and opening, we opened—our heart, our hand, our mind.” These choices define who we are. And when our kids are asked what makes us most proud of them, let their reply be, “I am kind.”