How to raise kind kids

by | Sep 3, 2019 | Featured, Infant, Parenting, Social development, toddler

We all want to teach kids to be kind and compassionate with others.  When does this begin? When they start playing with others? When they have the cognitive capacity to share? Does it happen naturally or do you have to ‘teach’ it? Recent research tells us that infants and toddlers are much more empathic that we thought and will naturally demonstrate an inclination towards kindness. They may have short fuses and limited self-regulation, but toddlers are ready and willing to help!

The developmental transition between infancy and childhood is no easy task. During this time children go through major motor, intellectual, social and emotional changes. They understand much more speech than they can actually verbalize. This leads to frustration which often expresses itself in biting, hitting and other seeming aggressive behaviors.

Simultaneously toddlers are eager to do things on their own and really, really want to be independent. They are increasingly aware of others’ feelings. Children as young as twelve months recognize when someone is distressed and may try to comfort them. From 12-24 months, toddlers typically begin to show signs of empathy and concern. You’ll see them give a toy to another child, bring them their pacifier, pat them or even share their own lovey if another child is crying. This is also when you begin to observe children nurturing baby dolls as pretend play begins to emerge.
 

David Schonfeld, MD says, “The desire to help is innate. At first children like to help others because it helps them get what they want. Next, they do so because they get praise. Finally, they begin to anticipate the needs of others, and it becomes intrinsically rewarding to do nice things for people in their lives.” 

 

The skill of being aware of others and helping them is a born of natural inclination, and grows and develops with encouragement, practice and modeling from parents. Babies will imitate what they see as you model kind words, touching gently, using your words, using a calm voice, helping others and sharing your things.

3 simple ways to fuel your toddlers’ desire to help:

 

1. Ask him to give somebody something. It can be as simple as, “Will you give the remote to daddy?” And then daddy emphatically saying “thank you!!!”.  This allows him to practice giving someone something they need and experience another’s gratitude.
2. Feed an animal together. This could be your own pets or it could be fish or ducks at a pond in the park. Animals are usually happy to receive food and your toddler will love watching them gobble it up. Of course it goes without saying that this needs to be closely supervised!!  We have an aquarium at our house and every child who comes over knows they can feed the fish. I put a little food in their tiny hand and they drop it in the tank and watch it float down. It’s quite mesmerizing, watching both the fish and the little ones’ delighted face.
3. Pick up the toys. What we consider to be a chore is a fun opportunity for toddlers to do what they love to do, which is put something inside something else. Anytime your toddler plays with toys, especially at someone else house or somewhere else, take a minute to pick up 3 toys. Make a big deal of counting, putting the toy where it belongs and showing him how nice the room looks now with everything in place.

These really simple things that toddlers naturally love to do will allow them to experience the intrinsic “feel good” of doing something that helps someone else. And as you do them together, you’re helping him towards several important developmental milestones…

  •  First is the understanding that he is a person distinct from others around him and that others may have a different perspective and different feelings.
  •  Second is the ability to recognize feelings in themselves and in other people.
  •  Third is being able to regulate his own emotional responses.

 

Those are some pretty big tasks so I’m sure you can imagine that it will take a while!

Teaching your child social skills is not a smooth and easy that builds daily. Instead you’ll see it one day and not the next, then again for a couple of days. It’s usually a back and forth process until a new skill is mastered.

Keep encouraging your toddler to help.  Make it fun, playful and positive.

As they move towards the preschool years you’ll build on the foundation of “thinking of others” which will develop into a kid who is able to relate to and play with their peers.

The kindness you show your child every day is exactly what he needs to grow and learn! 😍

Until next time,

 

Resources:

National Association for The Education of Young Children

How Children Develop Empathy

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