If you take the time to really watch children at play and in interactions with other children, you have to admit that they are pretty amazing. They are open to new people and ideas, wowed by exciting adventures, love to learn in new and different ways, and do things that give us great pride and hope.
Research has shown time and time again that kids even as young as 14 months old exhibit innate goodness toward others. As they grow, though, they learn what they live. This includes not only ways to treat others respectfully and with warmth and affection but also cruelly, sometimes with hate and meanness.
So it is so very important for us as parents, teachers, community members and others to model and reward the positive, to try to avoid the negative, and to see every behavior and experience as an opportunity from which to learn.
Obviously, it is unrealistic to believe that we will always model exemplary behavior toward others. It is equally unrealistic to believe that our children will live in an environment that is free of unkind words, actions, and even cruelty.
The challenge for us is to nurture and celebrate our children’s innate goodness as often as possible to counter the cruelty and meanness that surround us all in this world.
With regard to nurturing our children’s innate goodness, it is like cultivating a garden. In order for goodness to grow, we need to nourish it with patience, love, and understanding.
We see this in Superheroes Club when Lily leaps out of bed, ready to tackle the day with her positive attitude. Her mom immediately reinforces Lily’s infectious mood – nurturing it by giving her a hearty breakfast and rewarding her good mood with encouraging remarks and celebrating her enthusiasm and self-confidence.
It doesn’t take much effort to cultivate, nurture, and encourage our children’s innate kindness.
Below are some suggestions to consider:
1. Rewards aren’t necessary but can initially motivate kids to act kindly toward others.
The reality is that teachers don’t need to reward kids for good actions because, as humans, we instinctively feel good when we do something kind. In psychological terms, it’s referred to as “elevation,” where one experiences physical wellbeing by helping others.
However, most teachers do give out small tokens of appreciation or rewards to kids who are seen going out of their way to do something kind for someone else. Consider giving this a try to get your child started.
2. Remind kids wherever they are that we are all connected in some way.
Wherever kids spend their time - a play center, a classroom, at home - we can surround them with images about acts of kindness that help create a feeling of community.
They’ll remember some of the following images: kids helping serve food in a homeless shelter, kids making holiday cards for other kids in the hospital, kids participating in cleanup day at the beach, kids planting vegetables in a community garden, and more. Kids remember these images as being special and important and accept them as part of how they live their lives as they grow.
3. “Thank you,” “Good job,” “I’m proud of you,” goes a long way.
When witnessing a student or Superhero kid exhibiting kindness in their daily routine, saying, “Thank you,” “Good job,” or “I’m proud of you,” will definitely validate and make them see that what they do is important. So, expressing words of gratitude and pride to kids who practice random acts of kindness will help them understand that we, as adults, value such acts, and it will encourage them to continue to practice these and additional acts of kindness.
Nurturing our children to value and practice acts of kindness is a significant part of parenting and is ongoing throughout their childhood and beyond. In so doing, we help them live meaningful lives and ensure that they help build a world in which kindness toward others is valued and practiced.
Let’s help our kids be true to themselves and the kindness that’s inside them from birth. In the process we may be able to remind ourselves of the kindness that lives in us as well.