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'The best gift': 20 ways to raise kids who are thoughtful and kind

Parents everywhere want to raise children who are thoughtful. How do we teach our kids to be kind and to value kindness?
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Parents everywhere want to raise children who are kind and thoughtful. But sometimes they need a nudge in the right direction. How do we teach our kids to be kind and to value kindness?

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Our TODAY Parenting Team is full of suggestions. As part of our "Raising Kind Kids" challenge, contributors shared their most effective tips and tricks.

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our TODAY Parenting Team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you have your own ideas for how to raise kind little ones, please let us know. We want to hear them!

1. Realize how much kids can learn at a very young age. (Noelle Kirchner)

Two hands holding a paper heart
How do we teach our kids to be kind and to value kindness?Courtesy of Noelle Kirchner

“While our children will be influenced by what we model and encourage at any age, we have a unique window of opportunity when they’re little to shape them. We have a captive audience as we help frame their world.”

2. Teach the value of words from the heart. (Meredith, That's Inappropriate)

“Gifts are nice. Everyone loves to get a gift. My children are required to make a card when they give a gift. It requires them to take time and think about what they want to say to the person they are giving the gift to. It shows that they want to use their time to make something for someone else. In my opinion, that is the best gift.”

3. Encourage stand-out performance that counts. (Leah Vidal, Little Miss Wordy)

Boy praying in football uniform
Courtesy of Leah Vidal

“Being a great athlete is more than being great on the field. The world is your field and when your days of sports come to an end, it is on this field where your performance will truly matter.”

4. Instill two important words. (Amanda Mushro, Questionable Choices in Parenting)

Amanda Mushro's kids
Courtesy of Amanda Mushro

“Here’s what I say every single day when my kids are heading off to school and I’m wrestling them for one more kiss and hug, silently praying I’ve signed all the forms, and hoping their underwear is on the right way: 'Have a good day … I love you … Make good choices … Be kind!' As parents, we can talk about kindness at home and model it for our kids, but we aren’t always there to whisper in that creepy, loud mom whisper 'be kind.' With the craziness of the holidays around the corner, there are so many opportunities to teach our kids to be kind.”

5. Catch and spread kindness. (Amanda Mushro, Questionable Choices in Parenting)

“This idea helps motivate your entire family to be kind, catch others being kind, and spread kindness. Grab an empty jar and the spare change that’s weighing your purse down or hanging out in your car. Explain to your family everyone will be ‘catching’ each other being kind and every time a family member is caught being kind, a coin goes into the jar. ...

“Now it’s time to spread the kindness! After a designated amount of time has passed (the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving or Christmas), decide as a family where the money will go. Maybe it’s buying food and warm beds for the animals at a local pet shelter or purchasing warm coats for needy kids. The idea is to catch kindness, have the jar as a constant reminder and spread kindness by doing something kind for others with the money collected.”

6. Be a role model. (Dr. Claire)

Robin eggs
Courtesy of Dr. Claire

“You are your child's greatest teacher. How you treat yourself, your child, family and friends and strangers will be the greatest lesson on kindness. Of course, words are important but often, actions are more powerful. Making a gesture when a driver cuts you off in traffic, talking down to a server at a restaurant, making critical comments about yourself out loud, gossiping about people, all are moments of unkindness to yourself and others.”

7. Have high expectations for everyone. (Kelly Guinn)

Baby girl standing on tiptoes
Courtesy of Kelly Guinn

“I have high standards for my daughter when it comes to kindness. I want her to show grace, to give freely, to treat every single person who she meets with respect. I want her to be the girl who invites her bullied classmate to sit with her at lunch. I want her to have a heart that longs to serve others. I want her to genuinely celebrate her friends when they beat her at a game. That is the bar. That is the standard. So next time I kneel down in front of her round little face and look into her piercing blue eyes and remind her to use her nice hands, her nice words and her patience, I hope she knows one thing: That bar I've set for her? I've set it just a few notches higher for myself. And I'm reaching for it every single day.”

8. Lead by example. (Jennifer Swartvagher)

Jennifer Swartvagher with daughters
Courtesy of Jennifer Swartvagher

“As a parent, I need to lead by example. If my children hear me saying one thing and then doing the opposite, they will be more likely to follow my example, rather than follow my command. If I have made a commitment and take my responsibility seriously, I teach my children that I am trustworthy and reliable. My children watch us very carefully and monitor our every move. They have witnessed me and my husband being kind to others and working to give back to our community. Through our actions we teach them that being responsible is just a given. Talking with our children about what it means to live up to their commitments and providing them with the opportunities to prove their dependability is the first step to raising responsible children who think about others’ feelings before they act.”

9. Help kids see how much manners matter. (Saarah Samadani)

Saarah Samadani with two young cute kids
Courtesy of Saarah Samadani

“Kindness can be taught through manners. And what’s more simple than saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? I speak to my kids this way, in hopes that it will catch on (which it has with my 3-year-old) and will continue on throughout their lives. There’s something to hearing these two phrases that not only helps to exude kindness in human interaction, but helps to attract kindness as well.”

10. Remember the golden rule. (Saarah Samadani)

“This golden rule is key when instilling kindness in your children. When you treat your children with kindness, they will (most of the time) treat you with kindness back. Even when they are in the midst of a meltdown or lash out at you — continuing to treat them with kindness will teach them how to respond to others when they are being unkind to them.”

11. Say no to name-calling. (Meredith, That's Inappropriate)

“We all know the rhyme: Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Being a writer, I know first hand that names can hurt. Teach your children that name calling is never a good choice. It doesn’t feel good to be called a name, so why is it OK to call someone a name? Have your child put themselves in the place of the child who has hurt feelings. Having them reflect on that feeling is the best way to get them to empathize.”

12. Find teaching moments. (Heather Brooker)

Little girl blowing dandelion
Courtesy of Heather Brooker

“In order to teach our kids what to do, we should be able to point out what NOT to do. When you see examples of someone being unkind, don't be afraid to tell your child that's not the right type of behavior. Then ask them what positive steps they would take in that situation to be kinder. The few times we've faced a tough situation on the playground with a kid who wasn't being very nice, I talked to her about it. And because she's so little I offer suggestions about what to do differently next time. Again, she's 2. So only time will tell if all my labor is paying off.”

13. Encourage kids to stand up for what's right. (Leah Vidal, Little Miss Wordy)

“Always be the guy who stands up for what is right instead of the guy who lingers in the background, knowing he's witnessing something very wrong, but is uncomfortable speaking up.”

14. Don’t forget the power of forgiveness. (zachellamom)

“It’s easy to be kind when everyone’s in a good mood and the day is going well. It’s not so easy to be kind in the difficult moments, especially with those closest to us. But when unkindness happens, we always have a chance to make things right, if we can break out of the downward spiral, and first forgive ourselves.”

15. Teach them how to be a good friend. (Jill Ceder)

"Here are seven ways we can teach our children to be a good friend:

1. Avoid criticizing, condemning or complaining.

2. Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves.

3. Make others feel important — and do it sincerely.

4. Know when to use suggestions — not direct orders.

5. Be friendly, no matter how angry the other person may be.

6. Praise others’ achievements.

7. Be empathetic."

16. Catch the travel bug. (J.S. Thomadsen)

Exploring the shoreline on a fun trip
Courtesy of J.S. Thomadsen

“Many parents have made suggestions for raising kind kids and I agree with nearly all of them: practice inclusion, be empathetic, set a great example and use kind words. But I want to add another suggestion to the mix that I think is just as important: If you want kind kids, you should travel with them. Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about an all-inclusive Bahamas cruise or a week-long trip to Disney where every free moment is spent whirling or spinning, watching a show, indulging in character visits and eating sugar-laden confections. Those trips have their merits, too. But if you want to teach your kids kindness, take a trip and not a vacation. Take a trip to a U.S. national park. Your kids will learn about wildlife and conservation efforts, how every part of an ecosystem contributes to the delicate balance. They’ll learn how not to disrupt wild animals in their natural habitat, and how to respect living things — plants as well as animals.”

17. It only takes one person. (Dr. Claire)

“We all have seen too often, whether in the news, our personal lives, or in our community, how unkind people can be to one another. By teaching hope, that one person does make a difference, you will encourage your child to continue kindness, even if the direct results may not seem obvious.”

18. Perform random acts of kindness together. (Molly Jones, The Enlightened Mama)

“Engage in random acts of kindness WITH them. Carrying out random acts of kindness is a great way to show your children about being kind without expecting anything in return. You don't need to brag or even have a dialogue as to why you are doing what you are doing, but when your kids witness you pay for the person behind you at Starbucks, or give a nice tip with a friendly note on the receipt, it will normalize these patterns. It won't be some grand gesture that makes them feel like they are better than others or want to pat themselves on the back; it will simply be the way they operate throughout their lives. And if you choose to decline from filling your ego by telling everyone about the kind gesture you just made, your children will automatically be kind for the pure sake of being kind and nothing else.”

19. It's good to give and save. (Lauren S.)

Child with Easter bunny
Courtesy of Lauren S.

“I recently read a column in The Wall Street Journal that I loved. It was a way of giving to others while teaching your children to save for the future. A way to show them the value of a dollar while being kind to those less fortunate. The idea was to label three Mason jars 'Spend,' 'Save' and 'Give.' Put them in your child's room and start at around 3 years old to give them a small allowance. Not a large amount, just enough for them to be able to allocate which jar the money goes in. Give them $5 in change each month and teach them to save some for the future, give some to people who need it more than them, and spend some on something you really want.”

20. Watch the teasing. (Natasha Daniels)

Speak to kids with kindness art
Courtesy of Natasha Daniels

“Some families love to tease each other, but some children can’t take intense teasing. Some parents do not think their teasing is cruel — but if your child reacts by crying and storming off, chances are they are feeling degraded. Would you want your child to make fun of peers the way you are making fun of them? Some parents might think they are just ‘toughening up’ their children or being playful, but kids will often take it out on their peers. Children learn how to be playful by the tone their family sets. If mean-spirited taunting is acceptable at home — then children will think it is acceptable elsewhere.”