Expert advice: How to raise kind kids
-Oct 2, Hannah Hargrave , Living -
Most parents want their children to be happy, well-behaved and successful, but what about raising offspring to be kind? ‘This Morning’ resident psychologist and mum-of-two Emma Kenny tells Lumity why it’s so important for children to be kind and how parents can encourage empathy with some thoughtful guidance.
In a world where children’s achievements are all too often measured by grades or sport scores, the importance of nurturing kids to be empathetic can get lost in the mix. Dinner conversations often revolve more around what they got on their latest test than who they were kind to. But, you can shift this focus a little and help create a kinder generation and, ultimately, happier children by looking at the way you parent.
“What ways heavily on parents’ minds these days is academic success and standing out in some way at school,” says Emma. “The enjoyment we get from our children before they get involved in an educational setting is taken away quite quickly. The internet means we look online and compare ourselves and the competition level rises and a simple thing like teaching kindness gets forgotten.”
Why a happy child is a kind child
“When a child is happy they’re more likely to be kind to others too,” explains Emma. “When children are unhappy they are often quite isolated. They don’t really have the capacity to make lots of friends and they feel confined. If you’re not confident you don’t try new things. Kindness and happiness come from the good things we can invest in our children and these things are usually also the things that don’t cost any money.”
How can I help my child be happy?
“Everything should be about your child feeling safe, loved and really valued as an individual child. Just taking time to be with them can make a massive difference to their happiness. Sit around the table and chat about what you have been doing. Reading to your child has been linked to happiness and getting them outside with nature will increase their happiness too.”
Tips to teach your child to be kind
“I practice gratitude every single day,” says Emma. “My children are 14 and 16 now and we still do this. Before we go to bed I’ll ask them one thing they’re grateful for, one thing they struggled with but that we found useful that day. We have done that every day forever. I do it too.
“The reason is that it helps them to nurture the every day things that are so easy to ignore. Maybe the thing they were grateful for was a smile from someone they haven’t seen for a while or a kind word from a teacher. It could just be that they simply really enjoyed the spaghetti they had for their tea.
“In teaching them to notice the tiny things I’m teaching them that when they are in relationships to notice the importance of being nice to your partner or reassuring someone that their new haircut looks great.
“Practicing gratitude is really important in the big wide world.”
Will my child be bullied if they’re too kind?
“I believe kindness is next to godliness. The power of kindness will get you so far. There will always be people who will step on you and abuse that kindness but in the long run you will become the most happy, rewarded human being you can be.
“I taught my children the ‘whatever rule’. If someone is mean, they don’t like what you say, they don’t agree with you or they pick on you just say ‘whatever’ and act like you don’t care. It’s a way of avoiding bullying.”
How to talk to your child when they’re being mean
“If your child tells you, ‘I hate you’ it can be easy as a parent to say ‘That’s not nice’ but actually that’s their whole point of their comment. The child is trying not to be nice. So look at the feeling that has motivated that outburst. What are they trying to say? Perhaps they’re actually saying, ‘I don’t think you were listening to me’ or ‘I don’t think it’s fair you turned the TV off’. It’s the feeling beneath that motivated that comment so you need to learn how to deal with that feeling without using your own personal feelings of upset.
“Perhaps say to the child, ‘I feel you were being unfair saying that to me because it hurt me. Why do you think you needed to say that to me?”
“Most parents will just tell them they are being naughty but in actual fact in most cases they aren’t, they are just trying to express something that might not be as nice as being told ‘I love you’.”
Are children born mean?
“Imagine 50% or a little more is preset. So if your kid is born with a mean gene then there is work to do because they already have something fighting against being kind. What you can do as a parent is offer them compassion training. So it might not come to them as naturally – they may often be the kid who takes someone else’ toy or gets angry because they’re not picked for a team – but that doesn’t mean you can’t train them with compassion by exposing them to kindness and helping them be good and encouraging them to see their impact in a positive way not just in a negative way.”
Don’t compete with your kids
“Parents feel they have to be in competition with their kids telling them ‘You should be like this’ or ‘You should do that’ but what kids actually need is collaborators. They need you to be on their side even when they are fundamentally wrong. They need to feel you are siding with them. Instead of being in competition, instead of ‘You’re wrong, I’m right’ try a more nurturing compassionate stance. Say something like ‘I understand that your behavior was A, B or C and I can really relate to why but I was just wondering if there is a new way we can look at this’. You’ll likely get a calmer less combative response.”
Why you shouldn’t always tell your children ‘no’
“I always gave my children the autonomy of choice. I might be biased but my children are lovely and they’re kind and I think it had a lot to do with when they were young and they didn’t want to do something. It might have been something I wanted or needed to do but instead of just saying ’no’ and forcing them to do it, we would negotiate.
“I’d say we didn’t have to go to Tesco right away, but we would need to go when they’d finished playing with their Lego.
“There are things you can offer your child so they don’t need to feel like they are being pushed back all the time. It’s good to show them from an early age that it doesn’t have to be a battle with parents.”
Learn to relax
“There’s so much information out there nowadays saying that if your kid isn’t doing this by the time they are this age then there’s something wrong or they’re behind. It can be scary and make parents feel they are doing it all wrong and make them uptight.
“But the biggest thing a parent can do to make their kids happy is to actually relax. If they’re breathing and they’re well fed at the end of the day rest assured you ARE doing a great job.
“When my children were young I used to watch people in the park with three perfectly positioned kids all dressed immaculately with their matching picnic sets and then me with two kids who literally looked like they’d fallen out of a car, smothered in whatever they ate or drank. But I didn’t mind because that was the easiest way for me to parent.
“When everyone else was in coordinated jeans and t-shirts, my children were in fun mismatching outfits we had chosen together, because did it really matter that they looked fashionable or was it more important that they had freedom of expression?”
Kind children make proud parents
“I remember going to my son’s primary school parents evening and listening to the teacher explaining all about his cognitive learning and thinking I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. At the end of the meeting I stopped the teacher and asked: ‘Is my son kind?’ She said he was an incredibly kind boy. At that point I knew my work there was done! There is no bigger achievement than knowing you have raised a child who is a decent, kind human being.”