As a parent, I’m always looking for ways to teach my kids how to be good human beings. My kids are six and four, the perfect ages to teach this stuff—they’re old enough to “get it” but young enough to not think it’s lame. Of course, life is busy. Sometimes, days rush by in a flurry of piano lessons and homework and tae kwon do, and all of a sudden, another day has passed with nary a lesson taught.
Holidays and birthdays give us parents great built-in opportunities to teach thoughtfulness. But what about every other day of the year? How do you grab regular, everyday moments and transform them into opportunities to teach how nice it is to, well, be nice? Here’s what I’ve learned from my personal experience. In the interest of niceness, I’ve packaged it into three easy lessons.
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The most important thing is to teach kids to notice these opportunities themselves. And that means helping them be more aware of the people around them—especially the ones who might need a little day-brightening. Like, for instance:
- Classmates who are alone on the playground
- Adults who’ve had a long day at work
- Folks who are sick in bed
- Friends who are going through a tough time
But being nice is more than just noticing when someone’s down in the dumps. It’s about remembering and being grateful for all the people who brighten your day, for whatever reason. Specifically, I make a point of helping my kids notice and think about:
- Grandparents, both the ones nearby and the ones who live far away, who send their love in so many ways
- Teachers—at school and at extracurricular stuff like piano lessons and dance class—and coaches, too
- Cousins, who are that perfect mash-up of friend and relative
- Friends, of course—both the “besties” and the casual acquaintances who always seem to be there with a smile
Now that they know when to be nice (whenever) and to whom (everybody), the next step is how. The best way is to start small. To that end, here’s a list of kid-friendly acts of kindness ideas to get you going. Share it with your child and see which ones sound fun to do together. When you’re done with that, start your own acts of kindness list!
- Surprise a friend or relative with one of his or her favorite foods. Or bring breakfast in bed to a parent, grandparent or sibling. Enlist some help from an adult, of course. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just as long as it comes from the heart.
- Do a chore without being asked. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one that will resonate big-time with grown-ups. The more odious and annoying the chore, the better.
- Take a portrait of a favorite friend or relative. The very fact that you want his or her picture will make that special person feel appreciated, and as an added bonus, now you’ll have a nice memory captured for all time.
- Pick someone you love, and then make a list of all the ways that person makes you smile. Then, write a sweet little thank-you note, complete with the list. We don’t say thank you nearly enough for the little things.
- Raise money for a cause dear to someone’s heart. Showing that you care about something he or she cares about—enough to invest your time and energy—is a huge compliment, and plus, it does some good for the world, too!
- Take a song you already know and write new words to it to make it about someone special to you! It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be perfect—heck, it doesn’t have to be on-key. It’s the thought that counts! Then, see if you can record it onto a phone, a camera or a computer and send it to them.
- Make it a game! Write your own riddle or pictogram for a friend to decipher—the theme is “the reasons I love you.” (Be sure to give them an answer key in case they get stuck!)
- Interview a faraway relative. Send a list of questions to someone who lives far away, and leave a space on the page for their answers. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope to make sending it back a snap.
- Create a “sweet notes scavenger hunt.” Hide notes around the house for a sibling or other relative to find. The notes could be hidden in sequence with clues that lead the hunter to the next treasure or they could just be hidden randomly.
- Throw a surprise (sort of) party! Gather a few friends, make a sign, blow up balloons, and put out snacks, and when the person of honor arrives, yell, “Surprise!” Just like a regular surprise party, but no birthday required. It’s just a great excuse to make one special person feel like a million bucks.
Now you’ve got a whole bevy of ideas to help teach kindness to kids. But the best way to teach is by example. You probably already surprise your child with little treats or fun experiences every once in a while. Now, when you do, try calling attention to how good it makes them feel. Let them know that they could give that same appreciated, cared-for feeling to someone else.
So go forth and be nice! You’ll be surprised how quickly it becomes a habit for your family.