Kindness and empathy are vital qualities to develop in children from a very early age, as they’re key to all of their interactions with others both at home and in other environments. Equipping children with the skills they need to demonstrate empathy and kindness will help them form friendships, work well with others, be more resilient, confident and have high self-esteem.
Former teacher and creator of Education for Social Responsibility learning
resources at PlanBee, Oli Ryan, shares his tips from the classroom on how to teach children the value of kindness.
1. Encourage empathy
A young child can find empathy a challenging emotion as their first instincts are to be egocentric in their early social interactions. However, developing emotional intelligence is crucial if they are to understand why we should be kind. Here are a few ways to encourage early awareness of empathy at home:
Start by simply asking young children to notice the emotions of others and describe them. You can refer to TV characters or others around them to explore a range of emotions. Ask what are they doing, how they may feel, how would they feel in the same situation and what could have been done differently to show kindness. Building up these social cues from an early age will greatly assist in their long-term emotional development.
After infancy, older children tend to be more capable of feeling empathy. An effective strategy which great teachers often use to resolve spats between children at school is to explain how empathy can help children find their own solutions to their problems. Disputes with young children often revolve around whether or not they feel something is ‘fair’. Try not to use this language when dealing with arguments between siblings or friends. Instead, ask them to put themselves in the place of the other person. What would make things better for them? Is it something that they can work out together? Shifting the discussion away from whether something is fair or unfair and focusing on finding acceptable solutions is empowering, but it does take time and consistency.
If you notice your child has done something considerate, make sure they know that it hasn’t gone unnoticed! Take a moment to speak to them personally: ”I noticed you said this, and I just wanted to say how kind and considerate you are – keep it up!”
2. Explore the power of words
We’ve all got upset when we’ve misread a text from a friend or relative, without fully understanding what they might have meant. It’s important to equip children with the skills to express themselves confidently, clearly and most importantly, accurately. We can’t be there all the time to monitor every interaction that our children have, but we can introduce them to language that will help them to express their emotions more effectively:
Role-play in the early years is an important part of a child’s education. Games, like playing shopkeepers or school teachers, gradually teach them how to respond to requests and different needs, whilst expanding their vocabularies for clearer interaction.
Sharing positive words can have a profound effect on the way we feel, but they can be challenging to express. Compliments in particular trigger the reward centres in the brain, and each one is an incredibly simple but effective way to express genuine kindness. In the classroom, teachers play the compliment game: they ask their students to throw a ball around the room and to give a compliment every time they make a throw. Try doing this at home to practise feel-good kindness with all the family.
3. Demonstrate kindness
Equipping children with the skills to go out and demonstrate kindness to others is vital for their confidence and resilience. If they can reach out to someone and be kind to them, they will feel very confident in social situations and group activities.
Here are two simple approaches to adopt:
• Make your children aware of others who might want to engage in play activities, but are unsure. Encouraging your child to include others in play
is a great way to help them build friendships and empathy for others.
• ‘Being the bigger person’ is a powerful strategy for children. Reward children with specific, personal praise when they share something, resolve an argument themselves, or include other children in play. Hopefully, we can all remember what it felt like to receive specific praise about our good behaviour or our maturity when we were young ourselves!
Looking for more information and ideas on how to encourage education for social responsibility at home and in the classroom? Become a PlanBee member to gain access to an extensive range of KS1 and KS2 lesson resources.