“Thank you!” “Can I help you with that?” “I love your art project!” It is pretty amazing that these are the words of first graders. What is even more amazing is that they are choosing to use these words without prompting. As a mother of two grown children, a public school teacher for 22 years, and the Children’s Ministry leader at my church I have been afforded plenty of opportunities to observe kids. I have seen that when children are both expected and given the tools to be kind they will choose kindness. This requires intentional instruction, consistent modeling, and practice. Here are my best three tips.
1, Teach Kindness
If we expect children to be kind we must help them understand what kindness is and give them the tools to do so. They need opportunities to visit about what being kind looks like, sounds like, and how it feels to receive and show kindness. When adults and children have a shared understanding of what it means to be kind, they have no excuse. How do we develop this common understanding, though? We Choose Virtues is an amazing curriculum that gives educators and parents a framework to teach children the tools they need to be kind and exhibit other important virtues. This curriculum helps children become positive and successful individuals.
2. Model Kindness
Children are stealthy little observers. Not much gets by them! We can use their tendency towards imitation as a means to change their behavior. Modeling kindness is the most powerful technique available for instilling kindness in children. When children observe strong values in those they trust and admire, they will yearn to imitate them. This starts with us. When children are shown kindness, love, empathy, and acceptance they will be more likely to demonstrate the same to others. This can be as simple as meeting children at the classroom door each day with a hello, hug, and caring word to show them the kindness they deserve.
3. Provide Opportunities to Show Kindness
No one denies that proficiency requires practice. The same is true when learning how to be kind. There are many opportunities throughout our school day to practice kindness. In our classroom, I make sure parent volunteers enter to 27 sweet little voices greeting them with a “hello” and leave with the same voices saying, “thank you.” When birthday snacks are handed out, children have been taught to look each other in the eyes when saying, “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Hurt feelings at recess become a learning opportunity where the child calmly expresses his or her emotions instead of lashing out violently.
These seem like simple fixes, but teaching kindness requires focusing on the small details. Reading, math, and writing are important to learn at school, but learning virtues are as well. By teaching, modeling, and practicing kindness your children will choose to answer the question “to be kind or not to be kind?” with an affirmative, “We choose to be kind!”
Harrisburg (Oregon) Elementary School, Grade 1 Teacher
And the Oregon Small School Association, 2017 Teacher of the Year (Click to read about this awesome teacher)