Children who have the foundation for emotional regulation are more receptive to feeling and providing kindness and empathy. For children, compassion and empathy are essential for growth and personal development.
Here are some incredible ways to foster kindness and empathy in children:
1. Demonstrate kindness and empathy
Children learn best through modeled behaviors. They imitate the people around them, peers, adults, anyone who gains their interest. Caregivers should act in a way they want their children to behave.
Be aware of your words and intentions. If you are prone to gossiping about co-workers or family members, think before speaking in front of children. When you are upset with someone, try showing the emotion in a manner you would like your child to mimic.
Foster the natural empathy children hold for the world around them. When your child is upset over a dead bug, honor their hurt and commend their care. Show your empathy through your actions. If you donate to a charity, take time to talk to your child about why you are sending money to help the cause.
2. Teach children to understand other people’s feelings
Teaching emotional regulation can be difficult when it comes to other people’s feelings. Young children and teens are self-centered. Their future survival comes from what they take in during their youth. It is essential that children focus on themselves to gain crucial life skills; however, this can make teaching about our connections with others more difficult.
Modeling is essential in showing children how to relate to others when experiencing big feelings. Help children see the connection between an event and how they feel. Help children relate through their own experiences. “Remember when Johnny hit you, and you cried because it made you sad?”
Provide children with situations where they then identify the emotion a person may be experiencing. “Jessica was about to eat her ice cream cone when a boy backed into her, knocking the ice cream on the floor.” Children will learn to use their responses to understand how others might feel. This connection not only practices empathy; it helps children feel a part of their environment and the world.
3. Practice mindfulness with your children
Teach children to be in the moment with mindfulness.
The best way to do that is to have them write journals. You can also show them how to block out distractions to focus on their breathing or how their body feels. Guide them as they navigate their exploration of the mind-body connection. Children who can self regulate through mindfulness can better understand others’ discomfort and provide kindness to those in need.
4. Read stories about kindness
Locate books and stories that teach kindness and show kindness in action. Books about service to others provide understandable examples of how to show compassion. They help children identify kindness and find ways to spread kindness to others. For younger children, you can read to them or tell stories through fingerplays, puppets or dolls.
5. Promote gratitude
Practicing gratitude helps children identify the highs in their life and the things going right. During difficult times, showing appreciation can provide hope and strength in resiliency. Encourage children to give thanks by modeling gratitude. Dinnertime is a great opportunity to debrief from the day and discuss what went well, what they are thankful for and tomorrow’s plans. It also helps caregivers better understand their children and what is essential to them. Activities like gratitude jars and journals are additional ways families can incorporate gratitude into their day.
6. Encourage children to volunteer
Children have not yet learned the connection of money with their activities. Childhood is the best time to teach children the importance of volunteering. This helps foster empathy and kindness. It also connects children to their world, showing how we all play an essential role. Caregivers can find organizations that allow children to volunteer to prepare food for the homeless. As part of youth service organizations, children can visit retirement homes and provide some smiles with planned visits. Some children become so passionate they may decide to raise money for a cause instead of receiving birthday gifts.
7. Help children develop a “caring” identity
Children who can engage in activities promoting caring begin to identify by their actions. A child identified as kind receives praise condoning their behavior which benefits society. Kind children tend to view the world outside of themselves more so than typical children. Childhood is a time of self-discovery and selfishness does play an age-appropriate role; however, a caring child can relate to the world in a way that fosters their emotional growth.
8. Teach children the importance of their tone of voice
The importance of tone is something with which even caregivers can have difficulty. We may come across as angry when we are frustrated. A child who responds with a yell may be excited rather than angry. The recipient might not understand that and unnecessarily reply with an aggravated response.
Evie Granville and Sarah Davis are the website creators and podcast hosts of “Modern Manners for Moms and Dads.” They say even adults may struggle to understand that tone and intention can become skewed online. They go on reporting:
“It’s so important to help children understand from an early age that when we’re chatting online, our friend can’t see our face or hear our voice. It’s easy for someone to end up with hurt feelings when a conversation best had in person, instead takes place in a text.”
9. Introduce negative emotions and feelings
Children may not understand there are different negative emotions and feelings. A child who is scared may identify as sad. A child who is hyper and excited could identify as happy. Help children identify emotions by specifying your own. “Seth, I feel so happy when you pick up your toys so Mommy doesn’t have to.” “Daddy feels sad when you choose to throw your toys on the ground.” Help them see how their actions affect others. Help them reflect their reactions to the world around them.
Provide children with opportunities to practice kindness and empathy and they will learn interconnectedness to the world around them. Help children feel a part of something bigger than themselves. It helps them feel less alone and small, and instead fosters growth and desire to do their part and keep motivated.