“If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say anything at all”.
Alright parents, how many times this past holiday season did you had to say that statement to one or several of your children? Be honest. A new year is a great time to practice kindness within your family system. Not sure how to actually do that? Do not fear. Harvard just released a study sharing several ways to raise nicer kinds (and who doesn’t want that, right?!):
STEP ONE: Make caring for others a priority.
Parents, children need to hear from you that caring for others is a top priority. Verbally share things like “in this family we practice kindness to others, always.” You can encourage older children to address others respectfully, even when they are tired, distracted, or angry. This also assists in high emotional intelligence and healthy emotional expressions. (Stay tuned for more on that in coming blogs!)
STEP TWO: Provide opportunities for your children to practice caring & gratitude.
You can talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they have seen on t.v. or at school. Make gratitude a daily ritual at your dinner table (yes, everyone eating at the table is possible!). At the table you can express thanks for individuals and how they have helped the day be great (examples: teachers, bus drivers, Publix employees, etc).
STEP THREE: Expand your child’s circle of concern.
You can encourage your child to care for those more vulnerable. I encourage parents to give their children simple ideas for choosing into being kind to others. For example, the entire family can assemble bags for the homeless (freezer bags filled with water bottles, a toothbrush, toothpaste, crackers, and positive words of affirmation) to handout to those in need. Allowing your child to serve a population that needs extra support (volunteering at the homeless shelter, donating toys to children in need, supporting a child oversees, etc) encourages kindness and empathy.
STEP FOUR: Guide children in managing destructive feelings.
Parents, it is your responsibility (yes, I just dropped the responsibility bomb) to teach your children that all feelings are OK and VALID, but that how they choose to share and show those feelings must be appropriate. This can be done through helping them navigate helpful (and age-appropriate) coping skills so they child can remain in control of their emotions and behaviors (more info on coping skills in upcoming blogs, as well).
Own these four tips and you'll be taking a big step toward changing how your family system is functioning. No more “stop being mean to your sister/brother.” Let's make this new year more kind and caring, one kid at a time!