Can you teach a child to be kind?
This vital question is taking on a new urgency as our culture grows ever more abrasive and divided.
We all want our kids to be kind, but that is not the same as knowing what to do when you catch your child being unkind. As a world-renowned developmental psychologist, Dr. Thomas Lickona has led the character education movement in schools for forty years. In his book, How to Raise Kind Kids, he shares tools that parents need to bring peace and foster cooperation in their home. Kindness doesn’t stand on its own. It needs a supporting cast of other essential virtues like courage, self-control, respect and gratitude.
With concrete examples drawn from the many families Dr. Lickona has worked with over the years and clear tips you can act on today, How to Raise Kind Kids will help you:
- Give and receive respect
- Hold family meetings to tackle persistent problems
- Discipline in a way that builds character
- Improve the dynamic of your relationship with your children while putting them on the path to a happier, more fulfilling life
Dr. Lickona writes in his book, "We know that children thrive on a combination of support (lots of love) and challenge (high expectations and accountability)... Modern moral psychology confirms what Aristotle taught centuries ago: We become good by doing good. For that reason, a parent has to be a 'character coach,' teaching character skills like self-control and kindness in very deliberate ways and then helping kids practice them again and again, in everyday situations, until such behaviors become easier and more of a habit."
Dr. Lickona explains that being a character coach means giving your children opportunities for moral action in family life, such as doing chores, playing with, reading to or caring for a younger brother or sister, helping without being asked, making amends after doing something wrong and taking part in problem-solving sit-downs where everyone has a voice and responsibility to help to create a happier family.
The toughest part of being a character coach is doing so in the heat of the moment, when you’re tired, frustrated or running late and your kids are not doing what you ask or are on the verge of a meltdown. Parents typically have to do something on the spot to deal with the problem at hand. At the same time, you want your immediate response to have long-term benefits that prevent variants of the scenario from happening again. You want to address undesirable behavior in a way that helps your children grow in maturity.
Our role as parents is to do the best we can. It’s to make the most of the countless opportunities we have to contribute to our children’s growth in character. In doing that, we need to see the long view and work to lay the best possible foundation for growth. If your children are already teens and you feel you’ve made mistakes, have the confidence that it’s never too late to make a fresh start. We can’t change the past, but we can choose the future. Our children are a work in progress; so are we as parents.
Make a list of what you already do well as a parent and build on those strengths as well as working on what you can do better. Get support by talking with your spouse or another parent in your sphere of friendships.
Let’s look now at the challenges of trying to raise kind kids in our current, often unkind culture. In today’s world, creating a family culture of kindness and respect will in many ways be countercultural. But it’s still possible. It will be harder with some children than others, but we can help every child make progress on the road to good character.