Teaching kindness, humanity and sympathy

There seems to be lots of advice on the internet about teaching our children to be nice people – to be kind, sympathetic and understanding – but most of it seems to be directed at older children. Surely this is something we should be promoting from the very beginning, and from the moment our little ones begin to communicate and interact with others.

I would suggest, as with any other healthy habit, that thoughtfulness and empathy should be a lifestyle choice rather than a ‘how to’ lesson. Knowing right and wrong, good and bad, should be as important as their first steps, or spoken words. Kindness should be an early developmental goal and their reactions and interactions with siblings, friends, pets or other children at the early learning centre are all equally as important.

Empathy is simply a form of awareness. Being aware of what the other person may be feeling. So if your child snatches from another, snaps, or shoves… they need to be asked to stop and think. Ask them if they would like their toy snatched away, would they like to be snapped at or shoved… encourage them to switch roles, mentally. The ability to do this, to see things from the other person’s perspective, will greatly increase your child’s empathetic ability and improve their social skills in the childcare centre.

Pets and animals also play a very important part in showing the benefits of kindness and compassion to your child. Whether it is your faithful family dog, Grandpa’s goldfish, or the rabbits is the petting zoo, be sure to introduce your child to animals and nature at an early age. Make it clear that animals need to be treated respectfully and gently. Again, let them try to be in their shoes (or paws).

This is a rabbit, he is small and we are big compared to him… he might be frightened of us at first. If you stroke his head very gently and get to know him, he will learn to trust you.

Even if your child is a little young to understand all of this at first, you should relay the message anyway. Use actions and your tone of voice to demonstrate. Make sure that children know pets rely on us for all the things they need, as they cannot ask in the way that we do. Let them know that wildlife and the environment are as much a part of the world as they are. On the way to playschool or childcare, draw their attention to the birds singing in the trees or the squirrels in the park.

Most of all set an example by ensuring that you, as parents and the first ‘teachers’ in your youngster’s life, live by these standards yourself. Wave and smile at your child, and when you acknowledge other children or family members, share things, hold the door open for people, and always thank them when they do the same for you… all these little things will soak into the sponge-like learning capacity of a developing mind.

Now, let’s take the dog for his walk… gently clip on his lead and we shall smile and say ‘How are you?’ to all the people we know along the way!

After all, it’s observing the little things that make a big difference.