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It's Cool to Be a Kind Kid

How to raise compassionate, connected children.

Today's guest post was written by by Dale Atkins, PhD, and Amanda Salzhauer, MSW, co-authors of The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children.

Kindness counts. It’s cool to be kind. Kindness is key.

We often hear kindness slogans but what’s the true value of kindness? Short answer: it leads to a lot of other good things like compassion, happiness, future success, better relationships, improved self-esteem, and good mental and physical health. And don’t we all want that for our children, our families, and our community?

For our purposes, let’s define practicing kindness as:

  • Paying attention
  • Showing patience
  • Communicating respectfully,
  • And showing compassion and concern for others.

As adults, most of us can probably recall a time when a kindness—whether given or received—impacted us. Some of us may even recall feeling happier after engaging in an act of kindness, which, in turn, made us perform another act of kindness. Researchers found the same effect.1 People who are deeply involved in volunteer activities have even been known to experience a helper’s high. 2

So as parents or grandparents, how do we create and support these experiences for our kids?

The good news is that kids are wired for kindness. It was Charles Darwin who, within the context of survival mechanisms, understood that we have an instinct to be sympathetic and caring.3 Our job as parents and grandparents is to make the conscious choice to nurture kindness in our family’s everyday life. Research shows that in the chaos of daily life, while focusing on reinforcing their children’s achievements, parents of preschoolers can miss their child’s acts of kindness.4 The tips below will help you train yourself to be alert to those expressions of kindness that are so important and often missed.

Be a kindness role model.

Show your kids what it looks like to be kind. When they see you speaking and acting with kindness, they will internalize your behaviors and their importance. This will help teach them how to behave themselves. In addition, point out other kindness role models. These might be friends, neighbors, or even celebrities. Tell your child what that person did and why you thought it was kind.

Make kindness part of the daily conversation.

Be open to the many ways conversations can begin. If your child comments on something unfair he saw happen on the playground, listen in a non judgmental way, then ask follow up questions about what he was thinking or how else the situation could have been handled. If you are touched by a news story that discusses helping others, share it with your child. Or, if you know your child’s school is involved in a service project, ask about who is benefiting and why she thinks it is important.

Catch your child being kind.

Whether you see your child pet the dog, help clear the table, offer a kind word to a friend who fell down, or compliment her brother, say something. Even offering a smile or saying hi to someone you pass on the street is a kind gesture. Let your child know what you observed and why you think what she did was of value. This will show your children that you notice and appreciate their kind behavior, encouraging them to do more.

Talk about the similarities rather than the differences among us.

Many of us focus on how we’re different from other people--not in the sense that each of us is unique but in a more negative way. When you talk to your children, try focusing on the similarities between people, even those who may look different, come from a different background, or make different lifestyle choices than you. Finding those similarities makes it easier to connect with others.

Help your child be a force for good.

From a very young age, kids can make a difference in the world. Talk with your child about how his or her particular interests or skills might help someone else. If your child loves to draw, encourage her to make a card for a neighbor who is sick. If your child loves to sing, he might sing holiday songs at a local nursing home. Or, if your child loves animals, ask if she would like to volunteer to play with cats at an animal shelter.

As adults, we know that being kind can make us feel good, connect us to others, and give our lives meaning. With a focus on kindness, and some practice, we can help our young children learn the same. By starting young we can help them create kindness habits that will last a lifetime.


1. Kristin Layous, Hyunjung Lee, Incheol Choi, and Sonja Lyubomirsky, “Culture Matters When Designing a Successful Happiness-Increasing Activity: A Comparison of the United States and South Korea,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44 (2013): 1294–1303.

2. “Allan Luks’ Helper’s High,” 2010.

3. DiSalvo, David. Forget Survival Of The Fittest: It is Kindness That Counts. Dacher Keltner Interview by Scientific American, 2009.

4. Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Teach Compassion, filmed in Richmond, C.A. June 2011, TEDx Video. 15:09.

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