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Encouraging kindness in early childhood: Here's what to know

Compassion is one of the most important values parents can instill in their children.

Kindness is treating others with compassion and respect. Many parents strive to raise kind and caring children, and compassion is one of the most important values parents seek to instill in their children. While these values play a major role in a child’s social awareness and management, teaching children how to be truly compassionate can be challenging. Some research suggests that almost half of our ability to care and share is inherited from our parents, but, like any skill, the value of kindness is best learned through practice.

Weave lessons of kindness into your daily routine. When your child comes home from school, ask her to list two ways that she saw kindness being displayed and how she displayed kindness on that particular day, or two ways others were kind to her. If she has trouble finding examples, start pointing out examples around the house, in TV shows and videos, and when you are out together as a family. An example might be when a sibling shares their toys or helps a younger child cross the street. You can encourage your child to be on the lookout for kindness so you can discuss it at family dinner time. Have each family member share an act of kindness they did.

Build a “garden of kindness.” Trace and cut out flower shapes on paper with your child and talk to her about why kindness matters. Ask her to think of ways she can use compassion when dealing with her classmates. Have her write on the flowers reasons why she feels kindness is important and examples, and ask her to read them out loud. You can also work on your own flowers, and when you are both done, you can display the flowers on the refrigerator as a reminder of the value of kindness and compassion. You can do the same basic thing with a map of kindness, cutting out paper in the shapes of states or countries.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author, and Educational Psychologist.