Being a mother is awesome. For me, it is also terrifying.
While I have witnessed so much beauty in this world, so many of the events that have occurred during my lifetime frighten me, and I often fear for my son. I can only imagine many other mothers feel this way and perhaps always have throughout history. At times, I feel helpless, but never hopeless.
My yoga teacher told our class about a study that demonstrated how kindness is contagious. Researchers from the University of California discovered that cooperative and generous behavior spreads among individuals, that the effects of these actions cascade and persist over time (1). The free latte you received from your fellow coffee lover in the drive through today, may have been kindness resulting from a loving act shared many months ago!
As parents, I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children to embrace love over fear and encourage them to spread kindness in a sometimes very unkind world.
Call me a completely crunchy mama, but I do believe in the power of “sending good vibes,” being conscientious about how I treat all living beings and holding up banners blaring messages to spread love, not war. I’m certainly not an expert on raising children (mama of one here!), nor do I have all of the answers. I do have a desire to make our world a better place for our children and I believe giving more kindness is one way to do just that.
Here are four ways to teach kindness to your child:
1) Teach Compassion
We talk a lot about feelings in our house. At the wee age of two and a half, my son already gets it. He knows when someone is sad and he expresses empathy for them.
When he has a “toddler moment” and prefers not to listen, instead of yelling, punishment and threatening, we talk about how the situation made us feel and how he feels about it. I believe this has helped him be more in tune with the feelings of those around him, from sad characters in a book to those of his classmates.
Here are some awesome books for teaching children about the importance of showing compassion to others.
2) Teach Meditation
“If every child in the world would be taught meditation,
we would eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
~ The Dalai Lama
I like to think of meditation as a “mindful” time-out for children. Mindfulness and meditation programs have been associated with reduced risk of depression in children (2), increased compassion (3) and decreases in the stress hormone cortisol (4).
All research aside, I can attest to the fact that meditation does make me feel happier, less emotionally unstable and more likely to be aware of feelings other than my own. The element of self-discovery alone is enough to share this practice with my son.
One of our favorite books, Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids, has been helpful for my own practice and has given me creative ideas to help my son with his emotions, as well.
The author encourages teaching children to “Sit still like a frog, a remarkable creature. It is capable of enormous leaps, but it can also sit very, very still… The frog sits still and breathes, preserving its energy instead of getting carried away by all of the ideas that keep popping into its head.”
This practice teaches children to slow down and focus attention to their breathing and has been found to enhance their ability to concentrate, be less impulsive and more relaxed (5).
For younger children, meditation may not be as easy to teach. Helping my little one to pause and take a moment to breathe in deeply and exhale fully during a stressful situation has worked for us.
Here’s another excellent resource for teaching mindfulness and gratitude to children.
3) Teach Giving to Others
I follow a fellow mama on Instagram who paid it forward 30 times with her children on her 30th birthday.
They provided bags of food and toiletries to a homeless shelter, left dollar bills in plastic baggies hanging on store shelves, left a goody bag for their mailman in the mail box and left kind messages on car windows in an emergency room parking lot (among many other acts of kindness).
These are fantastic ideas for teaching children to spread more kindness without getting anything, other than happiness, in return. Here are a few more:
- delivering Meals on Wheels (or groceries on wheels)
- donating healthy food to the local food pantry
- walking dogs at an animal shelter
- helping out at a community garden site
- baking a special treat for a neighbor or a family member
- cleaning out the playroom, then donating old toys and books together
Don’t forget to ask your child for ideas! I bet you will be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with for helping others!
4) Teach the Beauty of Diversity
This may be the most important one of all.
We are ALL different, yet we are ALL beautiful. We must not only teach our children about this verbally, but very clearly through example.
What ideas do you have for helping our children spread more love?
(5) Snel, Eline. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids. Shambhala, 2013.
Photo Credit: etoiles filantes via Flickr.com.