How to Raise Kind Caring Children


Teaching Soft Skills

I was recently watching very interesting speech Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, delivered to the world economic council.  In the interview he was talking about how in a society that was becoming increasingly saturated with technology, how important it is to change how we educate children.   Mr Ma spoke about how important it is for our children to learn “soft skills”.

For those who are new to this terminology,  hard skills are knowledge based, they are the “things” you know.  Soft skills are the intangible skills such as values, teamwork, independent thinking, resilience, adaptability,  belief, creativity, empathy,  kindness and caring for others.

So how do we teach our children to kind, caring members of our community?

Mr Ma spoke about the importance of teaching children  art, music and sport.  Although these things are great I think it starts way before they go to school.  I am sure that we have all heard the quote, “Charity begins at home.”  Well I believe that the same holds true for kindness.  Our children are constantly watching us and downloading information from us about what it means to be human.  Children learn way more from who we are than what we are trying to teach them.

The first three years

It starts from when they are wee babes.  Infants form an a attachment with their parent or primary caregiver and connect with them via an “emotional bluetooth”.  Most parents have witnessed first hand how sensitive their babies are to the emotions of others.  During these early stages babies learn about love, empathy and kindness from their parents.  When they cry they are comforted, when they are hungry they are fed.  When the baby needs to be changed, bathed or to be put to bed these needs are met.  It is during the respectful meeting of an infant’s basic needs that they learn that the world is a safe place that they can trust.

Lack of early attachment has been shown to correlate
with poor social competency, lower teacher ratings of educational competence
and other outcomes in teenage years.
The experiences essential for activating neurons and promoting synapse
formation need to be the right ones. When a child is nurtured, played with,
sung to, cuddled and stimulated positively, he or she will be programmed in a
positive fashion. This type of experience sets a child up for life.  Dr Claire Dale.

The science of kindness

It is during these early years that children learn how to have empathy for others.  They learn this by having empathy shown towards them.  When children watch compassion and kindness in action has beneficial brain effects.

A Harvard study tracked the serotonin levels (the chemical found in Prozac and other antidepressants) of students watching a video of Mother Teresa caring for poor people in Calcutta, and found increased levels of serotonin in their saliva. So what do we learn from this study? That what you watch matters.

Watching others perform acts of kindness  has the same effect as performing the kind acts.   Endorphins and hormones like oxytocin are released.  This boosts our sense of connection, love, trust and optimism, which increases our serotonin levels and reduces our cortisol levels.  Children who regularly witness acts of kindness and empathy are way more likely to be kind and empathetic themselves.

Lessons in kindness.

  • Build your child’s kindness toolbox with the language of kindness.  Make your praise of them meaningful, avoid using “good boy”, “good girl”. Tell them why you are praising them. Be mindful of the language you use – your words will become their inner dialogue.  Hold each other accountable for disrespectful language.  No one can serve from an empty cup, make your child’s overflow!
  • Admit when you are wrong, this teaches children that mistakes are okay.  They will be way more likely to be compassionate and forgiving of the mistakes of others.
  • Prioritise kindness and service to others. Be a strong moral example and hold your children to high ethical expectations.
  • Practice gratitude daily – start a family gratitude ritual where you discuss as a family what you are grateful for.
  • Hold your child accountable for unkind behaviour, teach them that their actions have consequences.
  • Teach your child the value of focusing outwards.  In a world that is increasingly focused inwards (hello Selfies!) and everyone is wondering “what is in this for me”.  Teach them to be kind for the sake of being  kind and not for recognition.  Help them to practise kindness, firstly within your immediate family and then teach them to expand their circle of concern to their sports team or school community and then to the wider community.
  • Plan random acts of kindness together. Volunteer or support a local charity.
  • In an instant world, teach your child the value of delayed gratification and patience.
  • Train them to be mindful of their feelings and manage destructive behaviours.  Teach your child that although the feeling is okay the behaviour is not.  Practise calming breathing and meditation together.  Be mindful of your own emotions and behaviour and remain calm during the process.

When little people are overwhelmed with big emotions. It’s our job to share our calm and not to join their chaos.  L.R. Knost

Are you inspired by the kindness of others? Do you want to practise more kindness in your daily life? Do you have a kindness story to share, that will inspire others?

Join The Kindness Project Facebook group.

It is new and just starting out, but I am hoping that if we all share our kindness stories, random acts of kindness and thoughts on being kind then we can truly change the world one kind act at a time.

Observe More, Do Less: Lessons I Learnt During Water Play.

Children Playing with Water

Toddlers and a Water Hose a Recipe for Magic

I love watering the many plants around the centre with the water hose.  I find the task of tending to plants and watering them to be incredibly peaceful and grounding.  It is during this peaceful state of being that I always seem to attract the infants and toddlers.

Water is something that fascinates our young ones.  I love watching them test out their working theories in their rapidly developing brains. The children were drawn to the irresistible urge of placing their hands under running water.

On this particular day; one child was figuring out ways to get the water from her hand into her mouth. There was another little scientist working within the transformation schema. She was turning dirt into mud, and then repeatedly dirtying her hands so that she could wash them clean under the water.

During this time we  chat about the water – how nice and cool it, the scientific processes that are happening and about taking care of plants.

Once I had finished watering the plants I placed the trickling hose on the grass and sat back to watch the magic of play unfold. It wasn’t long before a group of 4 children had congregated around the hose, they ranged between 16 months and 2 1/2 years of age.  There was a bit of squabbling about who would hold the hose.  My immediate response was to intervene and “help” them sort out their conflict.  However I forced myself to sit back and observe how they solved their own problem.  There was a bit of grizzling, but soon the group decided to let one of the children hold the hose and while another children went off to find a bucket to be filled with water.  Once again there was  bit of conflict about the bucket, but soon the one of the children saw that there was another bucket nearby and went off to get it. Now with the conflict resolved, the children happily continued filling buckets, tipping them and then filling and tipping.

Observe More Do Less

I could have so easily intervened and robbed these children of the rich learning of resolving their own conflict. Teachers often fear judgement of being seen to be “not doing their job” by standing back and allowing children to resolve their own conflicts.

Magda Gerber teaches about seeing infants and young children as unique, capable, confident people worthy of respect as individuals.  If we rush into intervene we risk teaching children reliance on an adult to solve their problems and teach them learnt helplessness.

These children did not need a rescuer, they were fully capable of solving their own problem.

According to Alison Gopnik, psychologist and infant brain researcher, infants are born with phenomenal learning abilities, unique gifts, deep thoughts and emotions.

They were capable of solving a problem that some adults find challenging.

Would I have intervened if the situation had escalated and the children had needed my support? Yes, definitely, but it is our job as mindful practitioners is to observe sensitively, look and listen closely and carefully before we respond.  We need to see our children through the lens of being the beautifully, capable human beings that they are.   We need to”be” instead of “do”. Be heart led and intuitive instead of reactive and doing what we perceive others think we should be doing.

We empower our children with our respect and trust in them. They in turn grow up to see themselves as capable, empowered beings.

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”  W.E.B DuBois.