Encouraging kindness in middle schoolers: Here's what to know

Kindness is treating others with respect and compassion.
Two boys at the playground

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By Michelle Balani

Kindness is treating others with respect and compassion. When a person is kind it helps create the basis of a healthy and productive relationship. While many believe that the middle-school years are all about insensitive adolescents with selfish tendencies, this is also a time when many young people begin to see the value of being kind to others. Sometimes middle-schoolers need to be reminded that they prefer to be treated kindly so they can expect that others would prefer the same treatment. The emotional highs and lows of middle school and adolescence may affect the way your child applies kindness to her interactions and relationships, and it is important to continue cultivating and practicing this essential social skill.

Gratitude and positive thinking are linked to kindness. One way you can help your middle-schooler increase her gratitude is by having a family conversation about what everyone in the family is grateful for on a weekly basis. Some families have everyone keep a gratitude log or journal, while others do it more informally—for instance, by having a weekly conversation at dinner time. You can also include examples of how people were kind to members of the family as part of the conversation. Keeping a written record is especially useful when your adolescent is feeling down because you can suggest that she refer to her lists, which might help her turn her day around or think about things differently. Getting into this habit can make your child more mindful of the positive aspects of her life and help build her ability to be kind to others. By focusing on what she and others in the family are grateful for, you are helping your middle-schooler to realize the good in her life and to refine her ability to pay that forward to others.

Teach your child about paying it forward. Another way to help your teen develop his sense of kindness is by teaching her about karma—that is, getting what one deserves based on one’s thoughts and actions. Begin by explaining this concept—that for every positive action, there is always a positive reaction, and a person’s actions have a powerful effect on the feelings of others. After this, you may want to find an opportunity for your child to help a friend or a family member who is ill or has fallen on hard times. You can work together to bake them a cake, gather flowers for a bouquet, make a nice gift basket of items they may need, or extend a greeting of well-wishes. Bring her along when you deliver the gifts, and she can experience how it feels to make someone’s day better. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias adds that your child may be reluctant to come along with you as you deliver the items because she may not be used to dealing with people who are ill or in dire need, but don’t hesitate to insist that she come, despite her objections. Doing the right thing is not always easy, and in fact, usually is not. This is an important lesson she can learn from the experience.

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.