As Wonder hits the big screen next month, the movie is making a lot of parents think about how to teach their children about kindness. It’s the story of Auggie, bullied and marginalized by the kids at middle school for a facial deformity he’s had since birth. The book, and now the film, promote the idea that kindness should be a guiding light to moderate our other less attractive but all too human qualities. But how do we go about teaching our kids to be kind?
In order to understand the impact of their behavior on other people, children need to first explore their own feelings. Emotions can be a bit abstract, so try to give your child the right words to describe how they’re feeling. Talk about what’s going on when your child is unhappy, and don’t be afraid to introduce words like “frustrated” or “confused” from a young age. The more your child is able to express themselves, the more likely they are to examine their feelings and build self-awareness.
Talking about feelings will come more easily if you integrate a few mindful activities into your child’s daily routine. Talking about how smells, colors and sounds make them feel will naturally guide younger children to connecting sensory stimulation with emotions. Older children who meditate for a few minutes every day will have built a strong foundation for paying attention to their inner dialogue.
Once children are able to express their emotions and recognize how others make them feel, they have opened a pathway to empathy. If they understand that someone refusing to share a toy made them sad, they are able to accept that their behavior can make others feel sad too. That simple awareness will make a child pause before engaging in behavior that they now know will make someone else feel bad.
Turning an absence of insensitive behavior into proactive acts of kindness is all about reinforcing positive behavior. Let your children know how much you appreciate their efforts to help, or how wonderful it was to see them sharing. Kids move very quickly from being kind for the sake of praise or reward, to anticipating the needs of others and expressing kindness because it simply makes them feel good.
Children learn to walk, talk and feed themselves by mimicking the behavior of people who are important to them. If you show concern for the needs of others, your kids will too. Try to combine family outings with a kindness activity as your children transition to making kindness a natural part of their core values. If you need a bit of help coming up with ideas, The Kindness Elves (INSERT LINK) offer creative ways to make thinking of others more engaging for little ones.
All children are born with a hardwired need to feel connected, accepted, and loved by those around them. By nature or design, young children want to be helpful and teaching them to be kind to others nurtures this desire. Wonder pulls at our heartstrings because it reminds us just how deeply buried those good instincts can become, and how much better we feel when we reconnect with the joy of being kind.
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