Much like any other thing we teach to our kids, it develops over time. We cannot show or tell them once and expect that the lesson is learned. Much of what we teach our children is through our modeling and their observation. So the question is not how do we teach them kindness but instead how can I model kindness for my child? There are a few ways to model kindness to your child that will not only teach kindness but also build his or her self-esteem.
First, Listen with Your Heart
Many times children exaggerate when something is hurting. They stub their toe and the tears start flowing. Or you notice that your child is extra whiny today. This is an opportunity to listen with your heart. What is the child trying to tell me? Do they hurt that bad? Do they need extra cuddles and extra attention? These are questions you may ask yourself when you are listening with your heart.
By showing compassion, you are modeling kindness and empathy. It’s easy to get caught up in our busy, full-schedule days and just tell our kids, “You’ll be OK, let’s go.” But this is missing an opportunity to model kindness.
The best thing you could ask is, “Are you OK? Do you need some extra attention?” Take the time to give an extra hug and kiss. And remember that one day they won’t want hugs and kisses, so savor the moments that you have and be the soft place for your child to fall. When children know that their parents have their backs with everything they do, they feel confident, self-assured, and loved. This is added to their self-esteem bank.
Next, Develop a System of Teamwork
When we think like a team, we act like a team. Our families are our support systems and can be called on when needed. In our culture, we seem to start teaching independence fairly early. Of course, we also teach consequences to actions and hold children responsible for behaviors. But we want to treat children like children.
We cannot expect adult behaviors or decision making from a young child, let alone a toddler. Remember that childhood is the only time in life that is truly care-free. Children are working hard on developing social skills and learning about the environment around them. Let them enjoy the time they have to learn these valuable lessons.
As a bonus, the child will learn what it means to be a part of a team, and you may be surprised as to how much they start helping out. When a child feels included as part of a team, they feel a sense of responsibility to that role. Nothing replaces belonging and acceptance. This is the biggest thing that can build self-esteem in your child.
As parents, we rarely get time to ourselves. Depending on how old your children are, you may have days full of diapers, feedings, soccer games, band practices, and much more. You may start feeling like the maid and the taxi service. But we do all this for love of our children and to give them the things we want them to have in this life.
However, we cannot do for others and not take anything for ourselves. There are two great gifts we can give to our children, the first being nurturing the relationship with the other parent. We must show kindness to our partners for our children to truly understand love and respect. Our children’s first model of what a relationship is like is the relationship of their parents.
The other great gift is taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others. We have all been to that point of exhaustion where it’s hard to see the silver lining or make lemonade when you’re handed lemons. Now is the time to practice some self-care. Call on your support network for the children and take a shower, get a massage, go see a movie, or read the magazine that has been on the table for a month. Do what you need to do to feel like you again; your children will thank you. And you will be modeling kindness to yourself. When children have a parent who is fully present and attentive to them, they can feel confident in knowing they are cared for. And what a gift that is to your child!
By being mindful about how we parent our children, we can easily implement these three things to model kindness. Remember to give yourself grace—we are all human and can’t parent perfectly all the time. A perfect parent doesn’t exist, and frankly, when we model our mistakes and how we make things right we are still teaching valuable skills. Kindness is a concept that is taught over time; no one mishap will forever leave a mark. Kindness to yourself and building your self-esteem is what your children will see. And this will be how they learn to take care of themselves as adults. So, be kind to yourself.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carolyn Russo, MS, LMHC, therapist in Seattle, Washington
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