Teaching Children To Be Kind

Published: 02nd May 2012
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Getting an education is more than learning your ABCs and counting, even at preschool level. As any good Montessori teacher knows, education is about preparing children to be great people. So along with learning how to read, paint and tie shoelaces, preschool children need to learn to be kind.

If you can get your child started with learning to be kind early in life, you are doing him or her a great favour. The world needs kind people - we probably need men and women who are geniuses at being kind more than we need top scientists and mathematicians (yes, we need the great scientists, etc.. but everyone can be good at being kind even though not everyone has the gift to be the next Einstein). And it's good to start young. The good habits learned early in life have a tendency to stay with us.

Your child will be encouraged to be kind, courteous and considerate when he or she is at their Montessori early childhood centre. This can often be a reason for parents to choose to sent their children to a Montessori early childhood centre rather than some other kindergarten (but it's not the only reason!). The lessons in graciousness and courtesy learned at a Montessori centre will be taken more to heart if they are reinforced by lessons in kindness at home. As the old saying goes, charity begins at home - remember that "charity" isn't just about giving money to big organisations but is about treating other people with kindness and consideration.

Most children have a great capacity for kindness. However, they also have a great capacity for selfishness, as any parent has probably noticed. Sometimes, kindness means that you have to overcome that self-centredness and not always get your own way. This can be a hard lesson to learn (you get the feeling that some of those political leaders in the world's current turbulent hotspots never learnt it at all), but it's important that it is learnt.

Good manners are part of being kind. Saying please, thank you, excuse me and sorry are all ways of reminding whoever says these that the world does not revolve around just one person. And it's important that you back up the lessons learned about courtesy at the Montessori early childhood centre by insisting on similar courtesy at home.

Opportunities for teaching your child how to be kind are everywhere - in the family and in the neighbourhood. Look for these opportunities for kindness and involve your child. Don't forget to model kindness yourself. After all, one of the key principles of Montessori learning is that children always start by observing how something's done.

Here are a handful of ways that you can help your child learn to be kind. Of course, you might be able to think of others, depending on your situation.

Kindness to siblings: This can be the hardest lesson of all to learn, but if you can learn to be kind to your flesh-and-blood brother, you know how to show kindness to the "brotherhood of mankind" (not sure how that phrase should go in non-sexist language - the family of humanity?). One trap that parents can often fall into here is insisting that the older sibling should always let the younger one join in, have the coveted item that is being squabbled over, etc. This should be avoided, as it causes resentment in the older one and makes the younger one into a bit of a spoilt brat who expects to get their own way all the time. Conversely, you shouldn't let the older one always get their own way because they're stronger and have a bit more understanding. Sometimes, you are going to have to resort to tossing coins or removing the squabbled over object. Siblings should share, but they also need to respect other people's property and should ask before taking things. Ways that siblings can be kind to each other can include helping each other tidy up, getting each other drinks etc., showing each other how to do things and showing sympathy when one of them is hurt or upset.

Kindness to animals: Parents often buy pets for children to help them learn how to be kind. This works up to a point, although the parent does have to take the main responsibility for the animal and should never buy a pet they don't really like or want. Children have to learn how to read an animal's body language (beware of lashing tails in cats) to find out how the animal is feeling, as an animal can't express itself in words or facial expressions. Take care, as you don't really want your child getting clawed in the face by an angry, hurt cat, even thought this does teach a very sharp lesson about not being cruel to animals. Also, children can accidentally hurt animals by trying to be kind - a child might think it's great fun to be swung in a "helicopter" through the air but guinea pigs would find this terrifying and harmful. If you aren't ready for a pet or can't have one, you can teach kindness to animals by feeding ducks at the park or setting up a bird feeder.

Kindness in the community: Get to know your neighbours and find ways to help them and be kind for them, and involve your children in this process. You can take in a neighbour's mail and water their garden when they are away (children often seem to be more enthusiastic about doing chores in other people's homes). Encourage your children to donate old clothes and the like to charities - children find it fun to drop canned goods into the Sally Army food bank bin at the supermarket or shove outgrown clothes into those big charity bins. It's also fun being "sneaky good fairies" and practising random acts of kindness, e.g. putting money in parking meters for total strangers.

Kindness to parents: Parents are people and they're not perfect! It can be good for your child and good for you if you occasionally ask your child to help you when you need a bit of kindness. Nothing too demanding, of course, but this does help your child learn that parents are people with feelings and needs rather than tireless machines who are always nice. For example, you can ask your child to put those pouring skills learned at their Montessori centre to good use and get you a drink of water when you're exhausted and thirsty on a hot day.


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Friday's Child Montessori has lots of other great ideas for parents of preschoolers. (Click now to get SEO for real readers, not robots, using Semantic Writing by Rick Rakauskas.)

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