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“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible,” said the Dalai Lama. One of the best ways to bring more kindness to the world is through your children. By showing examples of compassion and empathy in their daily lives, you can raise kind little citizens who thrive on human connections.

We spoke to Melissa Hood, founding director of The Parent Practice – an organisation that draws on psychology, neuroscience and psychotherapy research to run parenting skills workshops. She shares the small acts of kindness that have a huge impact on young children:

Kindness breeds kindness

“With anything in parenting, modelling is going to be a huge part of it”, said Melissa. We have to be demonstrating kindness to them – that’s where they’re going to learn it first. If we walk past the homeless man in the street and stop to chat, that’s showing your child that that person is a human being.”

Put kindness into action

“If a child is being unkind to others we need to get them to stop and think about that. One of the things we suggest parents do is empathise with whatever feeling generated that behaviour in the first place. But once they’ve calmed down, then we’d get them to do what we call a ‘take two’ - do it again and be kind this time. Doing it rather than just talking about it really makes a big difference.”

Find examples of kindness

“Always be on the lookout for signs of kindness, and notice it and mention it. One of our core skills is descriptive praise, so when you see kindness you want to say things like ‘I loved the way you shared your toy with your brother, that was really kind.’”

Encourage kindness among siblings

“Spend time alone with the individual children so that they know there is time that is just theirs, and they don’t have to compete so much with their siblings for your attention the rest of the time. But also schedule time together with the siblings where you can be there playing with them so that you can help them learn that it’s actually a lot more fun to play games when you’ve got a playmate! Give them incentives to be kind.”

 

Use storytime to talk about feelings

“Read any kind of emotionally-charged storybook with your children and along the way ask things like ‘how do you think he is feeling right now? How can you tell what he’s feeling, is it his face, his body language? And what do you think he might do next?’ This just gets them thinking about feelings of all kinds.”

We asked parents of pre-schoolers how they help their children care about others:

Jane, 34 from Bournemouth:

“I’m a firm believer that a bit of kindness goes a long way, and for a toddler that can mean sharing, hugging or even just a smile in the right direction (especially in the direction of a grandparent!) Nothing makes me more proud as a mum than to hear my Franco has been kind. The important thing for me is teaching him to look for the reaction to his act of kindness so he knows it’s been well received. Then I tell him what a lovely kind boy he is for making that person happy and give him a big squidge. After all, one kind deed deserves another!

Clare, 40 from Chichester – blogger at maybushstudio.com:

“I think being kind often starts with teaching children to be considerate of you, their parents. It’s very easy to do everything for them, to forgive their interruptions and to pander to their demands, but children learn to be compassionate by understanding that the world does not revolve around them and that other people have needs. Like all siblings my son can refuse to share things with his younger sister, so we often point out that we his parents share many things with him, including my iPad!”

Honor, 35 from Portsmouth:

“We are fortunate to have two happy, kind and wonderful children. At bedtime every night we say to Aria ‘you are kind and clever and brave and good’. We often think with her about examples of each one from the day. We try to be reflective to help her to understand when something is not kind, saying things like ‘you wouldn’t like that if someone did it to you, would you darling?’ And we have always encouraged her to be kind to her baby brother Jolly. We tell her he will be her best friend for the rest of her life.”