When teaching children about kindness it’s helpful to be clear and state what it is and what it looks like, AND what it isn’t!
Kindness IS about treating others the way I like to be treated. It is NOT selfish, rude nor does it put people down or hurt people on purpose.
Little children can feel strong emotions and yet not really know how to identify those emotions or know what to do about them. Because these emotions are strong their reaction usually matches it, sometimes with a punch or an unkind word! This is where our phrase “Stop, look, think and speak!” can be used as a quick reminder of what to do when situations arise. This phrase can be a helpful in teaching children what to say in the moment. Stop is where we catch ourselves, and breathe so that we can kick start our brain into right action. Once we can think things through we can appreciate what we are feeling. We are then more able to look at the situation or friend and begin to build an understanding of what the other person may be feeling. Empathy for others is vital for being kind, as kindness is an action towards another person or living thing. Having empathy is difficult for young children, due to an egocentrically innate disposition, a natural part of childhood. It the responsibility of adults to gently expand the ego circle around the child to include others. By directing children to look at the person concerned will help, as faces give clues as to the emotion being expressed. The last part is to empower children to speak, to verbalise feelings or what has gone wrong. Giving children specific phrases to use with others in play, such as, “When you’ve finished can I have a turn?” or “Stop, I don’t like it when you chase me” can be helpful and scaffolds their learning in these situations. We help children articulate what is happening or what they are feeling. We want to teach children that words are powerful.
Teaching from a Head Heart and Hand perspective
As educators we are concerned with cognitive development, and thus, we have included the ‘head’ as an important first step toward regulating emotions, especially those strong emotions such as anger. It’s important to note that all emotions are an important part of being human, its what we do about them that matter. Teaching children practical ways to feel calm, such as taking deep breaths, take a run outside, jump on the trampoline or blow some bubbles can be helpful strategies that children can begin to use when they find themselves in a heightened emotional state.
Once we have our head in a thinking space, we can address the heart. What is in the heart is what we think about, what we do is shaped by what we know, what we believe determines our self-understandings and what we want can overwhelm our reasoning. This complex interplay of our thinking, values, actions and desires form the real us. It’s the heart of who we are. It takes a change of heart to be feeling soft and warm, to allow for actions that are kind.
Our hands give practical expression to what we think and feel. The works of our hands reflect what is going on in our heart and our heads. Our will, or ability to choose determines how we will act. Little children are helped when we specifically teach what kind actions look like; they are friendly, caring and helpful.
Practical ways to teach kindness:
Use everyday items to challenge children to think of a way to use it for kindness:
- Crayon/pencil- draw a picture/write a letter for someone
- Craft materials- make something for someone
- Toy- take turns with a friend
- Book – look at pictures together
- Chair- ask someone to sit with you
Teach children to use kind and friendly words and phrases. When we repeat
phrases over and over children have a greater ability to use them for speaking instead of hitting or taking. Give children an action such as hold up their hand, and say, “Stop, I don’t like it when you…”. Helping children to articulate and build a vocabulary about the problem can be very powerful. Remember the child is not the problem; the problem is the problem!
Dramatise pretend situations together; it is not only fun, but also a form of practising this important skill.
Teach specific simple social skills. Right from when children are very little we can encourage the skill to greet other people in a friendly way. To look, smile and say hello is a vital skill for being confident and competent to play well with others. Model it to children; practise it with familiar adults and peers.
Play ‘guess what I’m feeling’ games with each other and with a mirror. Children do not automatically recognise emotions on their or other people’s faces. Challenge children to show an angry, happy and sad face to show them what it looks like. Later, you can include more complex emotions such as surprise, excitement, or fear.
Build social skill phrases that children can use, such as, “Can I play with you?” “What are you playing?” “Lets build a tower!” “Can I have a turn after you?” “Wow, you can ride very fast!” You can do this when you are spending time and playing together. Insert the phrases as appropriate, modelling and teaching purposefully through playful episodes.
Give children opportunities to be helpful. Include them in the shopping, washing and other daily chores. Children who have these opportunities learn what helpful actions are, and generally children love to help! For example: Children can set the table for the evening family meal. By participating in this exercise children have learnt their importance in the family. When shopping have children get the packet from the bottom shelf, and another from the middle shelf in the supermarket. Suddenly we have positional language learning experience, which is the building blocks of pre-mathematics learning. It is also a confidence building and inclusive activity to do together.