Reinforcing Kindness: Helping Children Remember Its Value

On November 13th, 27 countries, including the United States, Canada, South Korea, India and many others, celebrate World Kindness Day. First started in 1998, the day is intended to urge the world to take a collective breath, slow down, and remember how important it is that we are kind to one another all year round. It is fair to say that now, as 2021 begins to fade and we prepare for 2022, there may never be a more apt moment to be kind to ourselves and, just as importantly, to those in our lives in a peripheral way.  Teaching children the value of kindness is essential every day, and as parents you teach that lesson in part by modeling kindness in your interactions with others.  In this post, we offer you some ideas for activities you can do with them on November 13th that really get the message home, and demonstrate how small acts of kindness can have huge meaning to those on the receiving end.

1. Create a kindness jar for the kitchen shelf.

Children love this activity, because it gives them the opportunity to creatively express kindness in their dealings with other people. You can get the ball rolling by putting in a slip of paper that says something like, “Go grocery shopping for our neighbor today,” which shows that you’re thinking of someone close who may be ill, and this individual can’t get out to the grocery store. Ask your child to think of someone – a teacher, perhaps, or a grandparent – who they want to be particularly kind to on the 13th. Ask everyone in the family to contribute ideas, and keep adding to the jar as the weeks pass and it empties. After all, kind gestures to others should keep going after World Kindness Day!

2. Go to the library for books that have kindness as a central theme.

Many children’s books focus on being kind to others as a main message.  Titles that are perfect for November 13th include “The Nice Book,” by David Ezra Stein, and “Kindness Makes Us Strong,” by Dena McMurdie. Another children’s book, “I Am Kind,” by Brad Meltzer, conveys the importance of kindness through the story of Abraham Lincoln, and speaks of his kindness to others as one of his most valuable and admired features. Books are available for virtually every age, from under the first year, to stories for children six, seven and up. And if you’d rather purchase books to build your child’s library, head to a local independent book shop rather than only shopping on Amazon!

3. Encourage a donation to a local charity.

It’s never too early to introduce children to the habit of giving, and November 13th is the perfect day to give to a local charity. Let your child choose the organization; for example, if they are animal lovers (and aren’t all children?) why not make a donation to the Humane Society? Whichever charity your child chooses isn’t really the issue; what matters is the act of giving, and the sense of satisfaction and goodwill that it instills in us all.

4. Demonstrate how we express kindness whenever the chance arises.

Let’s say it’s pizza night, and the family heads to the neighborhood restaurant for your weekly Italian meal. Ask your child if they understand why it’s so vital to say “thank you” each time the server brings an item to the table. Explain how kindness works, both when you give it and when you receive it. Let your child thank everyone who crosses their path, and ask them how they feel when they are kind. Putting words to the emotions that arise when they act kindly helps children come to know and understand how kindness feels, physically and emotionally.

5. Spend the day volunteering.

Perhaps you and your child can choose a place to offer your help for the day, like a children’s shelter or soup kitchen. (Your choice depends on your child’s age, of course). Talk to your child about how lucky they are, without instilling guilt; convey the message that the family is fortunate, and it’s good to give back when the chance arises. They may even want to choose where you spend the day, which is wonderful! Volunteering from a young age – like so many good habits – is how lifelong concern for the well-being of others is developed. Studies show that young people who spend some of their off hours volunteering develop important traits like team building and conflict resolution skills.

6. Declare the day an “argument-free” zone at home.

Make World Kindness Day a day during which the entire family vows to get along and be kind to one another – no squabbles over whose turn it is to do the dishes, or who borrowed whose jacket without asking. No arguments. Good manners. Ask that everyone be conscious of their behavior and be good to one another, because kindness, after all, starts at home, with loved ones.

Being kind at home with children and other family members, as well as to strangers on World Kindness Day, won’t necessarily change the world we live in and make it better, at least not all at once. But it’s a wonderful way to start, and since children are the future, teaching them to be kind is a great beginning.