How can we teach children kindness? It’s a big question about an important, but a sometimes elusive, idea. If you’re curious about teaching students kindness, read on for some easy ways of making kindness a part of the daily classroom routine.
Define kindness early and make it practical
It’s never too early to introduce the concept of kindness to kids. We can simply start by teaching children how to spell and sound out the word kind for students who are learning letters and sounds. Consider also turning this into a fun art project to hang on the wall. Later, when kids are old enough to grasp word meanings, offer your definition of kindness and then ask what the word means to them. They might begin to understand kindness in simple ways, like when a friend shares a toy. This example is an excellent opportunity to help your students understand that people express kindness in various ways, including sharing. Ask them how it makes them feel when others show them compassion, and teach them that they can make others feel that same way when they are showing kindness.
Make kindness a regular conversation topic
Asking questions about kindness is a great way to check-in with students during classroom meetings: Who showed you kindness today? How did your body feel when your friend shared that toy with you? Don’t despair if you get simple, one-word responses. Often, kids are taking in what we are saying and mulling it over, even if we can’t see their process. You might be surprised by what they say later!
Since kids love to have the world narrated to them, consider pointing out and celebrating acts of kindness whenever you see them in the classroom. Wasn’t it kind of our custodian to pick up the spill in the cafeteria? Or That was so kind of you to help your friend up after they fell, are simple ways of teaching kids that we can practice kindness in small ways every day, like taking care of our school spaces and caring for others when they require support.
Create an environment that supports acts of kindness
Encourage your students to celebrate others when they notice or experience kindness. Whether this is during a class meeting or creating a space in the classroom to celebrate these moments, it is essential to find joy and express gratitude for others when they are showing kindness.
Practice inviting others to play and set up systems within your classroom like a friendship or buddy bench at recess. If students find themselves without others to play with, encourage them to sit at the bench, and when others notice a peer sitting alone, invite them to play.
Make a list as a classroom of various ways to show kindness to others (invite someone to play, give a compliment, offer to help someone, etc.). Write them down together, check them off the list, or put a smiley face next to the kind act. Add to the list as often as possible and let your students take the lead with ideas for spreading kindness.
Model kindness as a core value
Create classroom rituals during the school year that teach kids kindness through actions like helping others, volunteering, and giving back to your community. These activities allow children to learn about kindness toward others and promote community building and bonding in the process. Draw pictures and write letters to adults in a local retirement center. Send thank you cards to the custodial staff, office staff, and recess staff at the school. Plan a food drive to support your local community members. There are a variety of ways for students to participate and understand the importance of kindness and the impact it can have on others’ lives. Reflect on how it feels to give back to others by showing kindness.
Children also learn about kindness by observing how adults treat themselves. Since kids consistently observe us in the classroom, we can practice kindness toward ourselves when we make a mistake. Narrating self-compassionate statements out loud can be a simple and powerful way to model kindness. Oops, I messed that up, didn’t I? That’s okay! I’ll try it again. When we are kind to ourselves, we teach kids compassion and resiliency at the same time. Studies on self-compassion indicate that we feel more motivated to work toward our goals when we are kind to ourselves.