As parents, teachers, coaches and friends, adults have a huge responsibility in helping shape the minds and values of the children with whom we have regular contact. I know that I learned a lot from the adults in my life. And I continue to learn as I deal with young dance students and family members. The best way that we can teach children to be more kind and giving is to show that to them on a consistent basis through our actions, as well as through the books, classes, religious stories and other situations to which we opt to expose them.
First and foremost, children learn through what we show them through our actions. How we treat others in a variety of settings influences how children perceive how they should act. Be aware of how you greet others, treat strangers such as waiters or hotel employees, interact with their teachers in front of them or react when a homeless person asks you for a dollar.
Each day, you will be in many situations in which you can provide a great example to children. To name a few everyday examples, how do you react when another driver cuts you off in traffic? Do you scream and say "idiot," or do you comment that that person may not be having a good day but could do a better job of respecting other drivers? When you see an elderly person at the grocery store who looks a bit out of sorts, do you ask them if you can help them find an item?
Do you make it a practice to do thoughtful things like baking cookies for a neighbor? Do you include your children in such activities? Do you focus on using a calm tone of voice when stern with others, or do you blow up in a critical tyrannical rant?
Again, the best way we can teach kindness and giving is through our actions, and that includes our choices of words and the tone that we use. As far as actions that help cultivate a spirit of giving, provide your children examples of this from an early age. If you see a Salvation Army collector outside of a store during Christmas, let your toddler put the five-dollar bill in the basket, and then explain to the child why you gave that money. Take your child with you to visit a sick neighbor and drop off homemade soup.
Once a child is old enough to better understand money and even earn an allowance, encourage the child to set aside a small amount of the money to help others. Help the child figure out ways to do that. It may be in the form of giving money at church, or collecting money to give to a charity. Whenever your child wants to make money through something like a lemonade stand, remind them that this is an excellent opportunity to give part of the funds away to others who are in need.
Teach empathy - The bedrock of kindness is empathy, the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and feel compassion for their experience. Encourage kids to look beneath the surface with people. Why is that little boy so quiet? Is he shy? Afraid? Why might a friend seem sad? Is there something your child can do to help them feel better? Ask your child what helps him when he experiences similar feelings, and encourage him to try out different ways of being there for others.
Teach manners - Help your child understand that manners aren’t simply conventions; they are ways of showing respect for and honoring other people. A rule, such as not interrupting others, is way of valuing what someone has to say. Saying thank you is a way of showing gratitude and acknowledging someone else’s effort. Be kind to your kids. Show your children that you love them, respect them and value their feelings. Practice good manners with them. Never berate your children or call them names.
Reinforce acts of kindness in children. - If your own child or a student brings you a bouquet of flowers or a gift, show your joy. If you see your son sharing his favorite game with a friend, acknowledge it. Encourage children to give cards when people are sick or to thank them for gifts.
Encourage children to be kind to the world at large - Reach out in your community in some way. Perhaps you can volunteer at a local soup kitchen, visit the sick or the elderly, or walk the dogs at the local animal shelter. Often, giving back to the world can be a family practic If you teach children, encourage community projects. You can even organize a dance recital to raise money for charity that is both fun and a learning ezperience.
Basically, gently find ways for children to start developing their own habits of giving, all the while reinforcing this with your own actions. Also, it's important to expose your children to books, religious lessons and classes, television shows and other situations that reinforce this message. Bring your children along for 5-K walks that support charity. Expose your children to television shows that teach good values.
Finally, find a way to reward your children for the positive choices they make and kind deeds that they do. Perhaps you can bake them cookies to celebrate an act of giving, or you can treat them to a new video game or activity. Don't of course overdo this and risk teaching them there is always a monetary or tangible reward directly related to giving.
Just as you teach them through your actions and words to be kind and give, remind them through how you live your life that giving in and of itself has its own rewards. Practice what you teach. Children are more likely to internalize what you do, than what you say to do.