Kids worry about not having friends. And they worry about being popular.
Parents worry, too, that their kids won't be liked.
The first step parents can take is to teach their kids to distinguish between the two types of popularity--one being the kind based on power and status, the other being based on true likability.
But just talking about true likability is often not enough. Like anything else, kids do better when they are explicitly taught how to be likable. One of the most effective ways to have people like you is kindness. (And if being liked isn't enough, here are a whole host of ways in which being kind is good for your health.)
The best way to teach kids to be kind is to embody the saying, “Kindness is as kindness does.”
The first step parents can take is to articulate their appreciation for others and to label acts as kind.
They should use statements like these:
“It was so kind of that woman to hold the door for me when my hands were full.”
“That was so thoughtful of Grammy to wash the dishes knowing how tired I am.”
“That man’s smile made me feel so good. Isn’t wonderful how even small kindnesses make the world a better place!”
“Look at the cookies that our neighbor brought us. That was so kind of them.”
“I really appreciate that Robert looked after Spot while we were away. He is kindness personified.”
The next step is for parents to go out of their way to model kindness to others (and to subtly point it out):
“I am going to water Robert’s grass while he is away so it doesn’t dry out. Good neighbors look out for each other.”
“Let’s stop and wait so we can hold the door for that man. It’s hard to maneuver with crutches.”
“Here, take these cookies with you. I made some extra for you to bring on your playdate so you don’t eat Mrs. Green out of house and home.”
“Come with me to fill up the tank in Daddy’s car. I want to make sure that he can get off to work as smoothly as possible.”
“Let’s make an extra sandwich for Sister. She’s studying for a test and won’t have time to make one.”
The third step is to catch their children being kind and to label it:
“That was so kind of you to pick up your sister’s towel, too.”
“Sharing your waffle with your brother really made him feel good. How kind!”
“I saw how you let that girl have a turn on the swing before you. That was very generous.”
“You were really sweet to share your colored pencils with Alex.”
“Thank you! These flowers just made my day. Your picking them for me was so kind.”
The fourth step is to encourage your kids to be kind, especially when it means reaching beyond themselves.
For example, if a child has knocked down another child’s block tower by mistake, you might prompt, “What could you do to make Terry feel better?” Or if a small child has been missing his busy teenage sibling, you might ask the teen, “What kindness could you show your brother who is missing you so?” You might even set a formal expectation by saying something like, “You have a lot of extra time this summer. I’d like you to look around and see what kindness you could do to make the world a better place.” Many families talk about the good things that happened today. By asking the question, “What kindness did you show today?”, your wording shows how high a value you place on being kind in your family.
All of these examples are less about extolling the virtues of kindness and are more about putting kindness into action in many different ways.
When You Take Kindness Too Far
Now, I am all for being kind. But there is a danger. Children can come to feel that people will only like them when they are kind. As a child, I let people walk all over me in the name of kindness. When a mother brought 27 seven cupcakes for a class of 28, I said that it was okay that I didn't have one. When five of us went to the amusement park together, I always volunteered to be the odd man out and sit with a stranger. Over time, I stood up for myself and what I wanted less and less because it seemed considerate to allow someone else's plans or ideas to take precedence. Yes, teach kindness. And at the same time, let kids know that being kind doesn't mean being the sacrificial lamb!