Motherhood

How to Raise Kind Children

How to Raise Kind Children

One of the questions we get asked most often is how to raise kind children. Big topic! It’s something I’m always thinking about, and through trial and error, I’ve learned six things over the past decade (and please leave your thoughts below, too)…

How to Raise Kind Children

1. Talk about things openly and honestly. When it comes to big subjects, like race, sex and death, I try to be a soft landing place for them, where they feel like they can bring up anything. Bedtime is especially good for this. When it’s dark and cozy, kids seem to feel more comfortable opening up.

2. Encourage them to be helpers. I have to admit, my biggest pet peeve is when you’re at a family reunion or on a group trip, and all the women jump up to clear dishes after dinner and the men don’t help. It drives me bananas! So, from a young age, we’ve asked our boys to clear the table, sweep the floor, etc. “It’s nobody’s job to clean up after you,” I’ll tell them. Kids can also help in bigger ways. My friend Linsey, who is a wonderful, giving person, has the mantra, “Help with your hands.” Kids, for instance, can hold a lemonade stand and donate the earnings to a cause they care about; or you can invite the new kid in school for a playdate.

3. Model empathy. You know that beautiful quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”? We try to instill that concept in the boys. For example, there was a crossing guard at Toby’s old school, who was really grouchy for a while, but instead of saying, “She’s a rude person,” or “I don’t like her,” I would say, “She must be having a hard week,” or “Maybe she’s tired.” It helped frame her as a complex human, who is likely sweet underneath it all but needed compassion.

4. Teach consent. We talk a lot about consent in our family — here’s a post about five ways we’ve taught our kids how to respect themselves and others, including the phrase, “You’re the boss of your body,” which really resonates with our kids.

5. Read great books. There are so many amazing children’s books that teach kindness and acceptance, as well as books featuring characters of color and female characters. I also love this book about consent. And they’re not overly academic — instead, they’re entertaining and funny and inspiring. Having a diverse group of books at home, or getting some from the library, is an easy way to start conversations and keep kids’ minds growing.

6. Accept them wholeheartedly. Whatever wacky things our kids come up with, we embrace with open arms. When Toby had an imaginary wife and two kids, we welcomed them into the family. When Anton wanted to wear cowboy boots every day for a year, we let him go right ahead. We love seeing their personalities develop and feel so grateful to be their parents.

How do you try to raise kind children? We’re still learning every day! Please share your ideas below, I’d love to hear…

P.S. Home as a haven, kids in conversation and 11 reader comments on kindness.

  1. rachel says...

    When my kids were little, I started talking with them about “showing the love in your heart”. It helps motivate them to act in ways of love. It also helps gently guide them back when they act out.

  2. rachel says...

    when my kids and i saw a terrible driver on the road, i would say, ohhhh grandma… it took the rage out of the experience by pretending it was our sweet but slightly batty grandma driving poorly.

  3. Melissa says...

    I love your point about helping. My husband grew up with all brothers and a mom who fully expected them to pitch in to keep the house clean. When I hear other women talking about how messy or unhelpful their husbands are around the house, I can’t relate at all! We’re currently expecting twin boys, and I hope to raise them to be the same kind of men their dad is.

  4. Kathleen says...

    Perfect. I love that you demonstrated empathy for the woman who was grumpy. Your response was not judgemental but rather helped your children look more deeply into the complexity of human responses. Thank you.

  5. KB says...

    As a psychologist, I am aware that gratitude plays a role in people feeling good about their lives and about each other. Each evening, as we sit down to supper, we hold hands and we say “Grateful”. It’s our version of Grace. We look at one another and we tell each other what it is that we are grateful for–on this day, with this mood, in this circumstance, with this weather, with this meal we may not like, with your sibling who is driving you bananas. I believe it is teaching all of us that there is something to be thankful for, in all of the richness of human life–for all its sadness, heartache, joy, triumph, and fear. Sometimes the kids say “I am grateful for water” or “I am grateful we have this room to sit in” or “I am grateful for SPAGHETIIIIII!!!!”. It is lovely to hear about what has moved us all, what is bringing us grace, in each of our days.

    • Heather says...

      This is so beautiful!

      At our house we have a similar practice inspired by two posts Joanna shared: https://cupofjo.com/2014/08/8-things-ive-learned-about-marriage/ and https://cupofjo.com/2017/06/surprising-things-about-marriage/

      At the end of the day my partner tucks me in (I always go to bed waaaay earlier than he does) and we ask each other “What was the best part of your day?” Even if we’ve had a stressful day with our studies or a difficult phone call with a parent or the weather has been terrible we can usually manage to find one bright spot and it helps us end the day on a good note, ready to face the next day with a full heart. Finding even one small moment to be grateful for makes a world of difference.

      When we start a family I would love to start a “Grateful” practice like this with our children. Thank you for sharing this beautiful idea!

  6. katie says...

    when i was in high school i worked at a wonderful summer camp. it was through the episcopal church, so there were a lot of christian-based rules/norms (i’ll spare you), plus this awesome thing called Secret Friends. Every camper drew the name of another kid at registration and your job was to be anonymously kind to them all week. Talk to them if you see they’re alone; hold the door for them; offer to help in any way; give them a bite of your candybar, etc. and at the end of which there was a big reveal party where you got to say what you liked about your secret friend & then share their identity. kids got really into it and loved the secrecy aspect, too. Nowadays I teach middle school & run Secret Friends week in my classes a few times a year, when kids seem down or just need a collective boost (like, before state testing, ugh). The rules are (a) give your secret friend a positive note every day (b)spend no money and (c) tell no one until the reveal. I write down the pairs & will give a nudge if anyone reports they didn’t get a note. it’s a bit of legwork but so so worth it — to the extent that kids will ‘secret friend’ each other by doing nice things whether anyone is around or not. It’s been a fun way to teach altruism with the goal being that you grow up to be a secret friend all the time.

  7. I enjoyed reading this post. As a mother, just like other readers I want my son to be a kind person. The school teaches about act of kindness. But I believe the house and parents are the root for child to learn about kindness. At our house, we show appreciation whenever kindness is given. Also, I tell my son, who is still just 6-year-old, to be kind to and love yourself first. Then, his kindness given to others becomes grater and love touches others’ heart. This year he became first grader. He was hurt by others. My husband wanted him to know about Karma. We simplify it for him and said if you are kind to others, kindness come back to you when needed. If you help others, they will help you as return. It seems he understands it.

  8. Ratna Babu says...

    While I agree with the premise that all should contribute, not everyone is capable of helping in the kitchen – man or woman. It only matters that they contribute to the get together in a meaningful way and not necessarily in the kitchen.
    When you try to make everything a 50/50 proposition, it becomes quite silly and unnatural.
    There are plenty of things that men do that I do not participate in – mowing the lawn, fixing the car, doing electrical work or whatever – not because I am a woman but because I am not skilled or interested in those things. But If carry my weight wherever I can.
    All the things that need to be done are important to the family and all work should be respected and appreciated.
    Those who are looking for equality sometimes unknowingly promote division and selfishness and take away from the family unit.

    Each should be questioning if they are doing all they can.

    • agnes says...

      I so believe that everyone is capable of doing everything! especially in the kitchen…

    • Aneta says...

      I respectfully disagree. Yes, everyone is capable of helping in the kitchen – it can be something as simple as clearing the table or taking out the rubbish. I am raising a boy who by the age of 4 knew how to put on the washing machine, unload the dishwasher and dry cutlery. It is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of the kitchen becoming the woman’s domain. The kitchen is almost symbolic that way. As is child rearing. I still know men who are proud of never having changed their kids’ nappies. Awful.

  9. Jane R says...

    We went to Kenya on our family holiday in summer and had the chance to do charity work. We found out that kids who don’t have shoes in Kenya, cannot go to school.
    When we got back my 8 year old son organised a shoe drive at his school. It was all his own initiative!
    He collected 173kg of his school mates shoes, which are now on their way to Kenya.

    • Naomi says...

      That’s fantastic! And well done, supporting his goal! Executing on the goal is more than half the battle.

  10. Emma D says...

    I heard some research on the radio, driving to work one morning. I’ve never forgotten it. They were talking about girls in particular, but I don’t see why is couldn’t be applied to boys as well. The research found that the biggest deciding factor as to whether girls are kind, is if their mother is kind. The power of adult/parent modelling! My two sisters and I were brought up with “you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution” and “it doesn’t cost anything to be kind”. My Irish girlfriend grew up with “black cat, black kitten”. I think it all applies here.

  11. Shayna says...

    I’m sure someone has already posted this but NPR and the Sesame Street child development specialists have teamed up for an incredibly informative and easy to digest podcast about tough conversations to have with kids. It’s called Lifekit:Parenting and I’ve recommended it to so many people.

    • Caroline says...

      I love that podcast. I don’t have kids and listen to the parenting episodes regularly. Adults aren’t so different than kids. 😊

  12. C says...

    Lately I’ve been noticing that my very kind and thoughtful 4 yr old has been excluding others. While I know this is a normal growth pattern and that really the little ones are trying to understand autonomy, it’s heartbreaking to watch! So… onward and out of my own heartbreak! We have been talking about how kindness helps things grow, just like food, sunlight and air. At first she looked at me skeptical like but then she really agreed and understood! Kindness towards the earth, other humans, animals, plants etc in the form of our words and actions really help things to grow. We also talked about how it would feel to have a friend or anyone speak/act unkindly. How we would externally and internally shrink away and feel small. That is when she really understood. That image of shrinking and expanding, like breath. Kids are so so so smart. They understand things in unique and beautiful ways. The more we as parents understand this and truly listen and speak w our children as though they were capable of understanding the better! ❤️

    • Jolanda says...

      My daughter is 3 and came home yesterday from preschool and I asked ‘with who did you play with today?’. She then told me ‘I played with Florence, I could not play with Binti, because I asked if I could play with Binti and she said ‘no!’.

      I immediately noticed from my own perspective that I thought, ‘well that is not very nice of Binti!’. But I noticed from my daughter’s wording (and the fact that she told me of course) that it did made an impression on her, but not a negative one. She took it matter of factly, ‘if Binti does not want to play with me, I will play with someone else’ and she did not give it another thought. So I asked ‘oh did you have fun with Florence?’ she then proceeded to tell me about everything she did with her little friend.

      Guess I learned something from my 3-year old today :).

  13. Iris says...

    I’m INCREDIBLY grateful for this post/collection of reminders at this specific point in time. My 3 year old has finally started to bring a few mean words/phrases home from daycare (“You’re stupid!”) and after inquiring with our sweet daycare provider, she shared that one child in particular had been acting out recently. Unfortunately it is a boy that our son really seems to enjoy playing with based on how much he talks about him.

    It has been really easy to at first jump in and, out of frustration, say “Don’t repeat things (boy) says – he’s saying mean things that hurt feelings!” I realize now, in the peace of my kid free office, that this isn’t the most constructive response. Perhaps it would be better to cut the boy out of it entirely and gently but firmly instruct my son not to say things like that because they are insulting. But is 3 too early to start a conversation about the fact that perhaps his friend is hearing those things from someone else who shouldn’t be saying them and/or that maybe he’s saying mean things not because he really means them, but because he is having a grouchy day?

    • Katey says...

      Hi Iris. I hear you. 3 is young but it doesn’t hurt to try. That said, consider meeting your kid where he is. Observe what is appealing to him about this behavior. Does he think it is funny? Does he feel strong when he says it? Whatever it is, name it. Say, “you feel strong when you tell me I’m stupid.” Say it with compassion. At this stage you are just naming it. If you’ve observed correctly, he’ll probably agree. Don’t correct him about this, but add to it. Say, “Feeling strong* feels really good, doesn’t it? What are other ways to feel strong that don’t hurt my feelings? Because when you tell me I’m stupid, it hurts! Ouch!” Brainstorm some stuff together–things that make him feel strong and things that make you feel strong, too: helping lift heavy groceries, helping push doors open, giving big hugs, building forts, or playing chase games, carrying him…. Instead of introducing topics that are too complex for little kids, just take him on a journey of co-discovery. He’ll be engaged and it can be a jumping off point from which to talk about unkind words and deeds the next time it happens.

      *Same thing if it’s getting attention, being funny, feeling liked by his particular friend; just acknowledge it without judgement. He’s a young, young human and he’s learning. Plus, you’re doing great!!!!

  14. Lorraine Glazar says...

    when I dropped my children off at school, instead of saying “have a good day” I would say “may you be filled with loving kindness”. 0

  15. katie says...

    Another time COJ is eerily relevant! Two boys, almost 2 and newly 5. Amen to all the book reading – The Girl and the Bicycle is a wordless picture book that makes me tear up thinking about it – kindness, working hard, giving…highly recommend. Here’s my request for the hive – kid videos, specifically those I can access via ROKU, that demonstrate caring, empathy, etc. We really limited screen time with our oldest which has served his imagination well but I think there were some missed opportunities to learn from characters. Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers had a big impact on me as a kid. My hunch is we missed the boat on Daniel Tiger with big bro but may try with younger. Any standout episodes/series/suggestions for a 5 year old?

    • Janine says...

      Full disclosure, they are Christian videos, but I watched Veggie Tales as a kid and they are full of great lessons about compassion, accepting others, etc. Would recommend!

  16. Meg says...

    We have a framed print in our living room, “Kindness begins with me.” I got it from a little Sunday school song as a child that we now sing in our house.

    “I want to be kind to ev’ryone,
    For that is right, you see.
    So I say to myself, “Remember this:
    Kindness begins with me.”

    I think it’s so important to teach children that no matter what is happening around them (or to them) that they can choose to be the impetus for kindness. We can strip ugly situations of power, stop cycles of hurt, and develop incredible confidence with the realization that we can be kind even when… even when… even when…

    • When our youngest was two, she began yelling “Get good measure!” to our older daughter as she boarded the bus or my husband walked to the train. For little Mar it meant try your best and be kind to others. We still say it everyday when we head out the door. As we are beginning to navigate these elementary school years, we model empathy and remind the kids, “Everyone has their hardest thing or their biggest hurt, even when we can’t see it on the outside.” Trying to find that balance of empathy and forgiveness, while also teaching them not to shy away from being assertive and to communicate their feelings when they need to be heard.

  17. Crystal says...

    My kiddos were super young when I read the “You’re the boss of your body” post and loved it at the time and have successfully instilled it in both of my girls (now ages 6 & 7)….however, they have advantageously used the phrase against me in funny ways such as not wanting to take yucky cough syrup, or if I pull out an outfit they have no interest in wearing (which I’m fine with obviously because I want them to have their own style) and they have even gotten away with not having to take a bath a time or two with such a simple phrase. But in a larger context they also “get it”.

    • E says...

      I tried this with my almost three year old and honestly I just think she’s too young for it, as she tries to use it daily to not wear socks, underwear, use the potty or do basically anything required for getting ready ;)

      Any ideas to teach consent for little little ones?

    • M says...

      To respond to E – I’m not an expert, but one way we try with our 2.5 year old is focusing on (1) letting him make decisions about his own body where we can without compromising his health/safety – like “would you like to wash your penis/butt tonight or do you want mommy to do that,” “do you want to say goodbye with a hug, a high five, or a wave” (and being clear to adults that HE gets to choose), “do you want to hold mommy’s hand or daddy’s hand when we cross the street, or do you want to ride in the stroller?”; (2) teaching him to ask before he touches other people’s bodies – like “I know you want to hug Nina good bye, ask her first;” and (3) teaching him that where things can’t speak (babies/dogs, etc) he needs to be respectful of their personal space since they “don’t have words” to tell him “no.”

    • Sara B says...

      This is completely understand to your story, but I was talking about kids and body safety with my hairdresser. She has a 4 year old and when she asked her what she should do if anyone touches her swimsuit parts, she said, “DON’T TOUCH MY VAGINA!” We were cracking up because yep, that oughtta do it

  18. Sasha L says...

    I love this post, and all the comments so much.

    I’ll just add one thing that may not seem directly linked to growing kindness, but I think it really plays a part. Dr Gordon Neufeld and Dr Gabor Mate wrote a wonderful book about attachment between parents and children (really between all humans), Hold On To Your Kids (The Power To Parent). In it they advocate for the proper power/authority relationship in families. When families have this, children feel safe, confident, loved. They also behave appropriately and well. One of the keys is that children see themselves as an important part of something larger (their family), rather than the center of their own universe. This of course results in more empathy and kindness towards others because they understand that they are connected and they are taught to care for the needs of others, as well as their own.

    I highly recommend this book to all parents, but especially to parents who struggle with asserting their proper authority in their families (proper authority is a completely different thing than authoritarianism). If you are worried about your child being kind, this is a great place to start. Attachment and proper authority are the foundations on which everything else is built. I work with young children and families and we have an epidemic of children who are in control, vs parents in control.

    • I agree, I love this book so much and recommend it to everyone.

  19. Joanna, This so timely. I try to do all of the above, and boy, am I happy to see that you and I share the same pet peeve! I was born and raised in India so I always thought it was an Indian cultural thing where most of the time men don’t lift a finger during family dinners. Thankfully, times are changing.

    Somehow I expected things to be different here in the New World :) and I have never been more disappointed. The nail in the coffin was this book my son got from the library, it’s called Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck. It actually has a chapter where the women are all huddled in the kitchen cooking what I am sure is a fabulous feast, while the men are in the living room watching football. So many things wrong with this picture. So. Many. Things.

    Also, regarding kindness, a convocation speech by George Saunders really spoke to me and I shared it with my kids. To put it in a nutshell, Saunders said “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

    Don’t we all?

    • *final nail in the coffin

  20. Court says...

    At the end of every day, my two year old and I discuss what we are thankful for. Most of the time he is thankful for The Wiggles or popsicles. I always try to be thankful for small doses of kindness that happened to me throughout the day. The other night, I asked him what he is thankful for and he gave me a big, deep, happy sigh and said, “Just everyone.”

  21. K says...

    it’s funny because these lessons are universal truths regardless of age. I’m reading about them in different words in How to Win Friends and Influence people, I’m suggesting them in trying to help friends and family members in their 20s and 50s that aren’t where they want to be in life. I literally said we can’t worry about how much money we are making if we haven’t sorted out our emotional and social foundation…it’s always going to come back to us. At the very base we want to be contributing members of society: If we can’t contribute by making monetary income, two easy free things are to contribute empathy (be present, listen), and cleaning up–at the very least after ourselves.

    I also saw this quote on the necklace the other day: “We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.” – George Bernard Shaw

    • K says...

      I got this from my kids’ preschool teacher, but we use it at home. We make a Kindness Chain. We write down acts of kindness that we’ve done or received on strips of paper and make a paper chain out of it, like a garland. Seeing the chain grow always motivates my kids to do the next kind thing, and I love reflecting on the little things we would otherwise miss

  22. Cordelia says...

    Before bed, my three-year-old son and I have “talk about the day” reflections, when I verbally recount the day. It’s a moment for him (and me!) to re-process what happened that day. With his interjections, I get some good insight on things that made an impression on him—which I sometimes barely registered—and we get to revisit fun moments. It keeps me attuned to what’s going on in his mind, and we both get the perspective of nighttime calm, where any storms of the day are less fierce. (And it’s a tradition. My mom did the same with me.)

    • Alex Messina-Schultheis says...

      I love this so much. Will be implementing with my future children! :)

  23. Cora says...

    I’d be curious to see a post about chores for kids. I have a 6 and 3 year old and the big kid is always helping while the little is always making a mess. I’d like to correct for that imbalance in developmentally appropriate ways but I’m also curious for more ideas on how my kids can take ownership over some of the household and see it as ours.

    • Hilary says...

      Hi Cora!
      Not perfect at this either, but one thing that has worked in our house is to have a little chore chart with chores geared toward the age group. Our 2.5 year old, for instance, has chores she can totally do: clear plate after meals, clean up toys, dustbuster, help sort laundry and dust.

      For us, it’s less about how much she actually helps and more about getting into the habit of helping. The chart keeps it structured since she needs that right now (plus they are each on a sticky note, so she gets to pull the sticky notes off and slap ’em onto an inner cabinet door, which is fun! Sometimes she decides she wants to do a chore based on the color of note it’s on, which is also fun!) but I forsee this as one step in a long journey toward teaching her about chores, helping, taking ownership of her messes. This works for now. Something else will probably replace it later :)

    • Heather says...

      Hi Cora! We’ve started out pretty small with our 2 and 4 year old – both of them help clean the house and put toys away in at least one big session every Sunday (the weekends are our busiest) before bed.

      They both *help* unload the groceries in their own special way – often times they’re just handing me things to put in the fridge, or putting things on the counter close to the shelves they go in, but it makes the whole thing more enjoyable for me!

      And then the 4 year old helps feed our dog and make sure his water bowl is full and also will take plates to the table to set up for dinner.

      So its nothing big right now, but they’re regularly helping – they’re so eager at this age really, its just a matter of finding age appropriate things.

  24. I echo the value of listening ears in the evening as you tuck your child into bed. That was the routine at my house for years and as my son became a preteen and then a teenager, my willingness to listen and talk at night became a valuable resource. My door and a spot for his head on the pillow was always open and late night talks were an important chance for me to listen while my son talked through everything: from a hard spot in school, to a friend in need, to events in the world that he was thinking through and making sense of…..we talked often. Now in college, we still talk (or text) at night, as he processes his day and I parent from far away. There were nights when I longed for sleep while we talked but now, with a so growing into a kindhearted adult, I am so glad I made the time.

    • Emily says...

      I have noticed this as my son ages into a teenager-he often comes to me just before bedtime or turns to me while we are reading side by side at night and says, Mom, could I talk with you about something.

      I think there is something comforting about it being dark, the house quiet, and everyone mostly settled so one is inspired to talk.

  25. Victoria says...

    Lovely, lovely post. When I talk to my son and he tells me things about other children that in class, for example, do not behave well, I perceive he does with respect and tolerance. Our children do not have our prejudices and that is a treasure in itself.

  26. Brooke says...

    This brought tears to my eyes, Joanna!! I felt the deep kindness and thoughtful intention as well as affectionate playful love throughout your post and ideas. Often when I need something to calm me, I think of Dalai Lama’s “My true religion is kindness”. Oh the balm of many kindnesses.

    Also, on a spicier note, “hell to the yes” on men doing equal, active, unprompted part in food prep & clean up. My dad sees it this way and it’s just the ticket. Go Toby and Anton, next gen!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “My true religion is kindness.” = i love that

  27. Rachel says...

    Apologizing to my kids has been one of the best ways I can show them kindness. I am impatient, rude or selfish toward them sometimes and I can see such a difference in our relationship and in their apologies the more I apologize and show them how much I want them to know I love them despite my brokenness.

    • Bonnie says...

      This! As a teacher, too. I think it’s important to see that adults make mistakes, but we can also take action to correct them.

    • Alex says...

      Yes, yes, yes! I have found apologizing to my kids to have the most profound impact on them. They feel respected and heard, and they learn that it’s ok to not be perfect all the time, but here’s how to behave when that happens. Leading by example is the most important thing to me… and though it can feel like a lot of pressure at times, I do think it makes me a better person.

  28. Theresa says...

    We have a little saying we do together each day before school. Part of it includes “Be Kind, be strong, stand up for what you need and think of others.” We started it very young with her and she really lives it. We also model it as much as we can.

  29. Lauren says...

    “my biggest pet peeve is when you’re at a family reunion or on a group trip, and all the women jump up to clear dishes after dinner and the men don’t help.”
    I would love a post just on this topic alone!
    I married (and divorced) a man from a Southern European country and didn’t even notice this was a thing (that I had not been doing) until probably 7 years into the relationship. Every time we went to a friend’s house for dinner I just hung out with him and the other men mainly because of the language barrier (he could translate for me)and only clued into the fact that I must have been breaking some cultural code of conduct expectation many years later.
    That being said, I was raised with a mom, who, when she went back to work, had my older brother cooking dinner, doing laundry, etc. just because it all had to get done. He now continues that to this day in his own marriage.
    But I have noticed this happening in the US not just abroad. Again, I grew up with my mom never expecting any guests we had to help out with cleaning up. She viewed it as part of her job as a host — the hosting, cooking and cleaning up afterward. And then just assumed the favor would be returned when we went to someone else’s house for dinner.
    But I have a friend who strongly believes in everyone after dinner helping out with the clean up — makes it go faster, spreads the work around so it doesn’t seem like too much — which is a viewpoint I can also understand — as long as it’s not always the women!!!
    So I am curious — is it a universal unwritten rule that if invited to someone’s house for dinner, that you should help clean up after? and if not, are you being a bad guest?

    • Meredith MC says...

      I think you should offer. Sometimes people have specific ways they like to do things, and if that’s the case, you don’t want to impose. If it’s a big gathering with a lot of clean-up, people should jump in. With family gatherings, we have a tradition that everyone but the hosts do the clean up. Among friends, I do obvious, simple things, like clear the table, and ask if I can help with washing dishes, etc.
      I would love to see men more involved in cleaning up.

  30. Amanda G says...

    This is a wonderful post! As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, now 3rd grade teacher and parent of a 1 year old, this whole topic resonates with me deeply(social and emotional skill development is my jam!). I have always fallen back on children will do as you do, not as you say. Model model model and keep modeling some more(even if in your mind your banging your head up against a wall). I also put the power back into the hands of children. Make them capable. Make them contribute. This instills confidence and self esteem. If there is an issue between students, I bring it back to them them *how can YOU be the helper in this situation, how can YOU show kindness right now?*. I remove my place as the one who has the power and it’s amazing to see how well these young people handle what comes their way.

  31. MC says...

    Oh goodness, I needed this today. I’m pregnant for the first time and am worried about everything… will the baby be healthy?, can I find daycare?, can I handle childbirth?. Everything! But my husband is the most unfailingly kind person I’ve ever met, so reading all the comments about modeling kind behavior set me at ease. Kindness is one thing I am sure of, courtesy of baby’s daddy!

  32. Anna says...

    I’ve thought SO MUCH about this as a parent…

    For all the parents out there struggling with their “tough” child and wondering what they’re “doing wrong”, I would offer that I have two children quite close in age and that they are very different people and have been since birth.

    My 2.5 year old is naturally kind in all the ways everyone is mentioning and hopes their children will become. She’s aware of other’s emotions, waits very patiently for her turn, will give her sister or a stranger her very favorite toy, etc., etc. She is my heart’s resting place.

    My 4 year old is very self driven. She wants the most of everything (food, toys, crayons) and when she was her sister’s age on occasion would push random children on the playground for no obvious reason. She is dynamic, gorgeous and….not always kind.

    My older daughter challenges me to face the parts of myself that rebel against her “selfishness” and ask myself to be bolder in meeting my own needs, something I think many women and particularly mothers struggle with. She also challenges me to think creatively and deeply about why doing good for others ultimately benefits her self and the link between all of us, as this is the way I can most get through to her on the topic of kindness.

    My point is, if I had just had one or the other and not both of my daughters, I would have thought myself either an exceptional parent or a fairly poor parent, based on their individual behavior. :) But neither read would have been true.

    My daughters are on their own unique paths as humans. As their mother I have the great gift and responsibility to meet and join them on their path with my whole self with a sense of curiosity and zero expectations. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it and has made me a better person.

    So for all the other kind mamas out there with tough kids who may not always be kind, hang in there. It’s not you! It’s them living out their journey. And they probably picked you as their mom especially because you are the one who could best meet them there, with her whole self.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Such a great point and beautifully written. Thank you xoxo

    • katie y chang says...

      thank you so much. this speaks to me.

    • G says...

      Thank you for this, such a timely article and insightful comment. I have been struggling lately with my 6yo daughter. She is our only child and she’s wonderfully creative, imaginative, and silly, but also such a contrarian and exploring all of the ways that she can disagree with or act against others’ expectations. It’s like living with a teenager, and I find myself getting stuck in ridiculous arguments to make a point and getting absolutely nowhere – because she’s 6!! And she needs the space to express herself and “live her journey.” (Love that.) I had been wondering where I went wrong, and only recently really thought about the fact that as an only child she has to carry the weight of all of our attention, hopes, and (ugh) expectations. It’s the right size for our family but, for me, it can result in an unbalanced view of her behavior and my parenting skills. I am constantly learning that I have so much more to learn, but accepting her fully as the wonderful and complicated little developing human she is – without expectations! – would bring more joy to each day. Anyways, all that to say that your comment really resonated with me (okay, made me cry). So thank you. You sound like a really wonderful and thoughtful mama.

    • Jana says...

      Thanks for this. I have two little boys who take to every situation very differently from each other, and one who often responds very differently than I would. I agree, a lot of the time we think our children’s action are a direct reflection of our parenting. But they aren’t! We can model, guide and create opportunities but ultimately our kids will choose what to do with what we set out for them.

    • Neela says...

      Thank you, Anna, I needed to read this today <3

    • Natasha says...

      Oh my goodness, this comment! Thank you. You are wise and a wonderful parent. Love to you.

    • Sarah says...

      So well stated- thank you. I have twin girls whose personalities are similarly diverse, and have been since birth, despite nearly identical parenting and life experiences. It’s both humbling and a relief that we cannot determine or control exactly who they are! I’m here for it.

    • Emma says...

      I absolutely love what you’ve said here, I totally agree. I also have two children with similar characters to yours; my daughter is so very kind and thoughtful (and a total badass) and my son is so very competitive and a whirlwind (and hilarious) – he is not so kind, but he manages to make people do exactly what he wants by being charming. Not so easy for a parent but a great skill as an adult!

      I too loved your line of being stronger in meeting my own needs for self care; I’m a freelance consultant and basically think I should always be working or taking care of someone else. I will include taking care of myself in that ‘list of acceptable ways to fill time’ from now on!

    • Brielle says...

      I really needed this today! Thank you for YOUR kind and encouraging words. I’m raising my own little beautiful, spirited girl and have been thinking about the right way to instill kindness in her.

    • Mia says...

      So beautiful. Thank you!

    • Ashley says...

      My heart. Ooh. I love reading this and reminding myself of your quote “ As their mother I have the great gift and responsibility to meet and join them on their path with my whole self with a sense of curiosity and zero expectations.” Truly beautifully written and has given me much to think upon. I will look back on this as I continue to watch my son grow into the curious and child. I love reliving experiences for the first time again through their eyes. I love trying to figure out what he’s thinking and how he is processing what’s happening around him.
      Thank you!

    • Emily says...

      As mama to a single child, I do think it’s important to note that you can fully understand your value as a mother and reap both the rewards and learn the lessons if you elect to “just have one” AND it’s hands-down the best thing you can do for the current climate crisis.

    • LHL says...

      @Emily — By that logic, “hands-down the best thing you can do for the current climate crisis” is probably to forgo having children altogether, or to adopt a baby, but then again, this post (and the lovely comment by Anna) is about teaching kindness, not judging moms who dare to give their firstborn a sibling.

    • Anna says...

      all these comments really made my day. :) we’re all in it together, even if it sometimes feels like we’re the only ones pulling our kids off the playground in shame, haha. what an awesome community of mamas.

      and sorry, emily! i certainly don’t believe you have to have a certain number of kids to “get” parenting. i of course already have my two (too late to send one back now!), so the crumbs that keep me sane have been gathered through that experience.

  33. Maggie says...

    First two questions I ask my kid at pick-up: who did something nice for you today and who did you do something nice for? I’ve learned so much about my son’s friends and teachers with these questions AND they reinforce the notion that being kind is my son’s foremost job when he’s in school.

    • Ellen says...

      That is so lovely. My two are at college, but I think I’ll start to make a routine of this in our almost 2x weekly mini chats. I struggle to keep their friends straight and this is such a wonderful frame of reference.
      (I also want to think about this personally on a daily basis.)

    • Liz says...

      I love this.

  34. Olivia says...

    My 6-year-old is being bullied at school, and we are trying to figure out how to handle it (the school is aware and helping). His strategy has been to give things to the kid who is bullying him–half his lunch, art supplies, etc–because “it’s good to be kind,” and of course, because if he doesn’t give his things away, he gets teased. Someone made a comment about kindness PLUS boundaries being important, which really resonates. I wish I had an equally powerful one-liner to help him understand that kindness isn’t simply giving your stuff away or bending to the demands of others. I’ve encouraged him so much to have compassion when someone is mean or sad, to think about what might be going wrong in their day… I’m so glad he got that lesson, but now I need to give him some guardrails for that kindness and I don’t know where to start!

    • Laura C. says...

      When my daughter was five and six years old, a boy from her class used to bully her. So, whereas I was talking with his mom about this (I like her), I was observing the boy and her older sister. Once I met these children at the park with their grandfather, and I started to ask them questions about their recent trip to a luna park. They were a little serious at first, but they answered every question.
      Later that week, I saw their mom at school and she told me: “My kids say that you’re so funny!” I understood there that those kids were in need of some consideration from their adults.
      So I started to become friends with the boy. In a few months time, the bullying in completely gone. I can’t say my daughter and him are friends, but they’re classmates and respect each other. I just saw him today and I always ask him about his day, his friends and he says that we’re friends. He’s a nice boy.
      Befriend your kid’s bully. If they like you, they won’t do anything to your kid. Most of times they have lack of attention from their adults.
      Hope this helps!

    • Amanda says...

      Hi Olivia,
      My kiddo is also being bullied (both in Kindergarten and now in 1st grade) due, in part, to him having some special needs (he’s a little on the spectrum). I know how challenging this is to see as a parent, so I just wanted to say that I see you and acknowledge how hard this can be. I try to hear my kids stories (even though they hurt my heart) and try to not “fix” everything (I can’t because I’m not at the school!) and just sit with him and share that I know how hard this experience is. And I try to balance it with sharing what we’re grateful for every night, and find other positive spaces for him to feel good about himself and connect with friends. I’m working with the school a bit but they are underfunded / have large class sizes, so it hasn’t helped. Cultivating kindness is so important to me, and I also have to recognize that there are lots of factors outside of my control and parenting bubble. I love your idea of boundary-setting and like exploring that through words and actions with my kid. Sending you mama love!

    • Meghan says...

      I’m in this exact place with my 6 year old. He is the nicest and sweetest kid – always saying hello to everyone and asking how they are. But now we are having to teach him that not everyone wants to talk/not everyone will be nice. A kid will be so mean to him, and my little guy still makes a huge effort. It hurts my heart so much to know he is going through this. I really like the ideas of discussing boundaries and also making sure we still keep things positive. <3

    • Amanda says...

      This is a great point to make when it comes to how to handle tough children who abuse power. It reminds me of articles I remember reading about the qualities different cultures instill in their children. The USA tends to be very much about the passive, sharing culture which can easily be taken advantage of. And other cultures instill a firmness and grit in the belief of standing up for oneself. So interesting because there can be a good balance between both. In my classroom, if a child has something first and another one wants the same toy, I teach children to respond in a way that they can give away or share the toy when they are finished playing. Im hoping that’s a start to setting up boundries with peers.

    • Lizzie says...

      Olivia,
      When this happened to my son, I used the advice from my older sister who was an elementary school teacher. She would tell her kids “hurt people hurt people” meaning that there’s more to the story of the “bully”. I use this with my kids to encourage them to practice empathy. They may be expressing what they are told and it may not even have anything to do with the kids they are bullying. They too are hurt and don’t know how to express this which unfortunately results in bullying.
      This didn’t solve the bullying problem, my son still had to walk away from the situation or involve an adult if it got bigger than what he could handle, but it would help him to see that he wasn’t the issue. My main goal was to show him that he is enough and doesn’t have to change in order to make someone else happy. As long as he doesn’t make someone feel bad or is mean, then he can just walk away from the situation.

    • Olivia says...

      Hi Laura C.! Thank you. I like your advice to befriend my son’s bully. And I think you’re right that this might deter him. I tried this approach early on, but the thing is, we live in a European country that is not very immigrant friendly, and I speak the local language with an accent (my son doesn’t have an accent). The kids understand me, but they think my accent is funny– and they tend to make fun of my son even more when they hear me speak. That made me stop talking to the bully for a while. But now, thinking about your comment, I realize I need to try again. In fact, that’s probably the best thing I can do for my son in this situation– show him how to be brave and steadfast and kind at the same time. The bully wears glasses and is a bit chubby, and I think it’s possible that he has been teased as well. So maybe he could also stand to see an adult who is comfortable being different. Wish me luck!

    • agnes says...

      That is so complicated. I suppose there are some religious beliefs involved? How would you make a gift to someone who is mean? Some children are mean not because something went wrong in their day but they have serious problems at home. Anyway, I don’t think there are any excuses for them, they have a choice to make. I think we should teach our kids to stay away from the mean kids and defend themselves. But it’s all very personal I suppose. I hope you find the help and your kid finds the tools to protect himself. Sending thoughts and solidarity

    • Nicole says...

      My daughter was bullied by two girls in kindergarten last year. I would say 5 and 6 year olds that are as unkind as these girls were learn it from somewhere. The “lead” bully told her things like “I wish you lived in another state” and the second girl just had very weak character and would usually back her up. Our teachers and the social workers and counselors handled it well with all three girls, checking frequently and talking with all the girls separately. The teacher eventually kept the girls separate from my daughter at class centers when it wouldn’t stop. My daughter is a people pleaser, and even with the schools intervention and giving her tools and building her back up, she had lots of big questions at home about whether she was just not likeable. We emphasized kindness and boundaries (especially boundaries because she wasn’t as inclined to stay away so she could win the girls over). We said hurt people hurt people and it has nothing to do with her. And although we must be kind to everyone when we must encounter them, we don’t have to be friends with everyone and we have a responsibility to protect ourselves from unsafe people. She eventually confronted the sidekick bully in the car line one day (my older daughter reported the interaction to me!) She asked her, Why are you unkind to me? And the girl admitted she didn’t believe any of those things and was just going along with Girl A. The girls have been friendly, but not friends, ever since. We still steer clear of primary bully

    • Jas says...

      I would absolutely never advise any kid to try to befriend a bully or to give gifts to bully or to have emapthy towards a bully. This is too complex for kids that are in imminent danger from someone who is endangering their physical or emotional well being. It is easy for us to try an feel empathetic towards agressive kids, but we shouldn’t ask that from our little ones. If your child is being bullied, consider it very serious and go straight to the school authorities and beyond. Your kid has rights that are being stepped on and he/she needs to be protected by the school, state, etc. I would hate if someone advised me to try and be friendly towards someone who is mobbing me at work, so I would never advise that to my kid and I would do everything in my power to protect my kid and stop bullying immediatelly.

    • Laura C. says...

      @Olivia: you’re welcome, this behaviour has helped us a lot and the kid is.not a bully anymore.
      @Jas: there is a difference between adults and children. Of course I would never ask anyone to befriend a bully at work. I understood that the kid was actually a good boy but had a bad behaviour, and the trick worked perfectly. I think it’s always a good movement amd, if that doesn’t work, then try other things. But no one could tell you that you have acted badly.
      Good luck Olivia!

  35. Liz S says...

    My husband and I were traveling and had just got on the shuttle from the airport to the car rentals. We watched as a dad and his young son (maybe 8-10 y/o) got on with their luggage. They stowed their luggage and found their seats. Then we heard the dad say to his son: “Ok, it’s good that we got on and found our seats but now we look around and see if anyone needs help.”

    My husband and I were astounded. We are childfree and had never seen such parenting. There’s hope for Americans after all!

    • Susanne says...

      <3

    • Mac says...

      This is phenomenal parenting. I love it. Thanks for sharing. Liz!

    • Kelly says...

      Wonderful parenting indeed.

      But there’s hope for Americans after all?

    • Emma says...

      That is truly wonderful.

  36. Florencia says...

    My husband and I always say our 13 year old son got the absolute best out of the genes passed down to him. We have always talked about kindness, about our privileges and our responsibility of giving back to others. We have also tried to not just talk about it but model it for him, helping a neighbor in need, donating to important causes, pointing out others helping. A few weeks ago I was driving with my son when the car in front of me slammed on their breaks and made a turn without a signal. I made some negative comment about bad drivers. My son said “mom, look at where he’s turning. I’m sure he’s pre-occupied. I hope everything is ok for them.” The car had turned into the cancer center. I was so proud of him. I learn so much kindness from watching him model it for me.

    • lomavistagirl says...

      What a beautiful lesson to learn from your son.

    • SG says...

      This just brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing and for the reminder to look up from your own perspective once in a while. Your son sounds amazing!

    • Rachel says...

      Oh my god, that’s amazing! What a beautiful young man.

  37. Rachel says...

    Last night my husband was telling me that a friend of his had been in a car accident, and he was visibly shaken. My almost-3-y.o. daughter looked at him and said, “It’s so sad. You OK?” I felt so proud that she is learning empathy. When my husband said yes, he was fine, she said, “I’m OK too,” LOL. Way to bring it back to you, buddy.

    • Vero says...

      This is so sweet <3

    • Madi says...

      I was tearing up reading all of these comments and yours made me laugh-cry out loud! Thank you for that 😊

  38. Stephanie Brennan says...

    I have two boys (7 and 2) and I think about this all. the. time. I try so hard to teach and model kindness but life is such a constant struggle (major financial stress, marriage in a weird spot, working full time at a job I don’t love, people who can’t drive!, etc.) that I lose my temper and yell and basically feel like I’m failing at everyone and everything. BUT! I recently watched my 2 year old comfort his “sad” baby doll by cradling him and slowing rocking him back and forth in his arms (which is how I put him to bed every night) whispering “Oh, are you sad? Shhhhh.” And then, after an exciting pinata explosion at a birthday party, I witnessed my 7 year old offer up his own fought-for candy when he realized his brother emerged from the melee empty handed: “Oh, you didn’t get any? Here, you can have mine”. Let me repeat — my 7 year old GAVE HIS OWN CANDY to HIS BROTHER. I mean, that’s compassion right there. So, I must be doing something right, right?

    • Julie says...

      For sure!

    • charlie says...

      how sweet!!

    • G says...

      Yes you are ! Hugs to you.

  39. Sarah S says...

    I love all of this! As a mother of a 3.5 year old girl and 1.5 year old boy, I am always trying to instill a spirit of kindness and strength to both my children. I do struggle sometimes with the balance. For example, how to encourage daughter to be kind and empathetic while still standing up for herself on the playground or school (if another child hits/pushes or cuts in line). I’d love to hear any perspectives on that.

    • Anon says...

      I have a six year old who is very kind hearted but also likes to be good, especially at school. It was hard for her initially to be assertive for fear of being mean to another. I taught her that it’s ok to say, “Stop it. I don’t like it.” Now if there is an issue we will talk through different lines she can say to be assertive in that particular situation, for example, “That hurts my feelings”.

    • Melanie says...

      This! Such a struggle! How do I teach her not to take shit from anyone but let some stuff go. Would love to hear more about this.

  40. Tracy says...

    When my children were young, and there was a person in their class, or team, or neighborhood (whatever!) that they were not fond of, I would say to them, “You don’t have to be friends with him (or her), but you do have to be friendly”.

    • Anon says...

      Yes, I try to explain this concept to the children in my class every year. We don’t have to be friends with everyone. We don’t even have to like everyone. But we do have to be nice to everyone.

  41. Lydia says...

    CoJ readers, help! I am struggling so much with my 9 yo daughter. She’s very kind and emotionally intelligent but is going through a manipulative, self-centered, attention seeking phase that has always been a part of her personality to some extent but is so intense now I find her difficult to be around some days. I am constantly setting boundaries and correcting behavior and I feel like I say “you are not the center of the universe” and “there are more important things than being the center of attention” so often that I worry not only am I not modeling kindness, but that my daughter will look back and think I don’t like her. It’s not just that her behavior is annoying and disruptive, I also don’t want her to struggle in relationships because emotional manipulation and a constant need external validation are not the basis for happy friendships and partnerships. But how do I teach this without seeming SO mean?

    • Andrea says...

      Hi Lydia, for what it’s worth I have had some success with my daughter (who will be 9 in January, only child) by not reacting and taking as objective a point of view as possible when I’m teaching or guiding her. For example, when I notice self-centred behaviour I will stop what I’m doing and ask her: “Can I share with you how your behaviour is making me feel?” and usually she’ll say yes. And then I just share from the heart what I’m feeling. I think thoughtfulness is at the root of genuine kindness so sometimes getting these growing kids to stop and think about the larger world is a start. It’s a challenging age, hey? I feel like my daughter is changing at warp speed. Wishing you well!

    • Jessica says...

      I don’t have any good answers for you, but I am also struggling with my 9 yo daughter so you are not alone. She isn’t manipulative but my she is self-centred, defensive and not very empathetic. I also have such a problem with exactly what you said – that she will look back and think I don’t like her (I do! She’s my daughter, I love her unconditionally despite the fact that she drives me mad. She can also be funny and silly and great company). I do find her much easier to be with when it’s just the two of us, and I make an effort to carve out that time. Coincidentally, and maybe not possible for you, we recently got a cat, and she is an excellent cat mother. The cat adores her and she takes very good care of him. I consider this to be a hopeful sign of an essentially good character that needs time and patience to emerge, but I’m by no means convinced that I’m equal for the job!

    • Emily says...

      Hi, Lydia,

      I think that is a normal stage for children around that age.

      I highly recommend reading How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. People talk about this book a lot in this comments section and I know Joanna is a fan. I read it when my son was quite young and refer to it often. It can really help you with some of what you’re experiencing. It also taught me how to just slightly rephrase things so they came out sounding less judgment-based and almost more convivial. My child is 12 now but thinking back to when he was nine-so much is about to change for them on a cellular level. In some ways, they’re still so little yet they understand more. There may be something in her environment spurring this behavior. I bet if the behavior is lightly reflected to her, she may even be able to brainstorm ways to turn it around ever so slightly. Best of luck! You’re not alone. xo

    • Anna says...

      The biggest thing that taught me empathy (took me too long!) was volunteering! Find ways in your community that she can serve others- whether it’s with kids her age, at nursing homes, or in homeless shelters. As an adult, service helps me refocus and shift gears outside myself and it’s never too young to start.

    • Ciel says...

      Lydia – I am not a parent and I don’t have the answers. But I hear you and wish I could help!

    • Megan says...

      First – please take some time for yourself if possible. I find with my kids, I really sometimes have to get away from their irritating behavior. You have to fill your own reservoir.
      Second – try to really observe and compliment behaviors you want to encourage.
      Third – is there something on her mind? I have a child who acts out in similar ways sometimes (also nine, any chance your daughter is a Sagittarius?), and he ALMOST ALWAYS has some deeper, somewhat troubling to him thought rolling around in his head. Unpacking it, though it can take time, helps, and reinforces your bond.
      Fourth – Sometimes, make her the center of the universe, as she wants it to be. I’m sure she is the center of your universe, but sometimes let her set the terms of what that looks like.
      I really hope this is helpful. I feel like parenting is like standing up in a canoe on the water, constantly trying to stay balanced and upright. All the best!!

    • The book “Transforming the Difficult Child” was helpful to us. It is about positive discipline, so looking for the good, and concentrating on noticing and commenting on the good behavior you see. It has a bit of a strange title, imo, but what is taught in it is really good. Howard Glasser also has videos. I have heard “Unconditional Parenting” by Alphie Kohn is good, though I have not read it. A book that is excellent, if you have not already read it, is “The Whole Brain Child” which really shows how children are thinking. Collaborative Problem Solving is another approach that really works well for us. There are many websites for it.

    • Emily says...

      We just had two therapists come to our school setting to talk about parenting with age appropriate social and emotional development in mind and I learned a lot! They talked about re-framing areas of challenge with our children into the idea of skills that they have not yet learned (balancing self-centeredness), and also remembering to look at areas where they have gained mastery to draw upon as strengths (kindness, emotional intelligence).

      They gave us a list of changes by age, and one of the big ones in the age you are describing is this: “are affectionate, silly, and curious, but can also be selfish, rude and argumentative.” Point being, this is normal behavior! Good to normalize for the child, too, that what they are experiencing is part of life at this age as they are refining independence and individuality.

      Something else that I thought was helpful was to calm ourselves first!! and also to approach things with curiosity. As in, “It seems like you would like my attention – is there something you’d like to talk to me about? What’s been happening in your world lately?”

    • Oh that sounds tough. (And projecting into the future, I can totally see my now six year old struggling with that at some point.) Not sure if this will help, but what if you did some volunteering with her? It could probably be any kind as long as it engaged her. Might widen her scope etc, and at the very least offer an opportunity for you to praise her actions? Also because I’m a book nerd, would reading a middle grade book that deals with kids being kind (or not) be helpful? I bet a lot of kids deal with this…

    • Kate says...

      Perhaps try to re-frame the correction in a positive way, such as “I would love to do that as soon as you can use a kind voice.” Or “I understand how you feel but we need to ______ right now.” The book “Positive Discipline” might be helpful.
      I’m struggling with my 15 year old daughter too. In her early years she was SO kind and also super attached to me. Although she has always been very strong-willed at home, but the perfect model student at school. Around the age of 8 or 9 she started to be very sarcastic and mean to me almost all the time and seemed to reserve that behavior just for me, never for her dad. She is still super sarcastic to me most of the time, which I guess is normal for a teenager but still hurtful, especially when I think back to the super sweet little girl I once had! I’m hoping that this is just a necessary phase of becoming independent and maybe it’s so extreme because she was so extremely attached to me until the age of 7 or 8. But I do worry all the time that I will never get my sweet girl back and it’s just heartbreaking!

      I also recommend the book “Untangled” for parents of preteen and teenage girls – it has definitely helped me through the past few years. Much of it would probably be applicable to a 9 year old as well.

    • Sara B says...

      I have 3 young boys who aren’t even in school yet so this is way out of my depth, but I just wanted to wish you luck.

    • MelTown says...

      The last time I went to my gynecologist we were chatting about our kids and she mentioned that her daughter was nine and that nine is the age that girls hormones start to change. It’s basically pre-puberty. I don’t have any advice because my oldest daughter is seven so we’re not quite there yet, but I did file that information in my brain for future use! I hope that info is helpful!

    • Lydia says...

      I just love this community. Thank you for all the insight, support and validation. You all mean so much to me! :)

    • Pamela says...

      I feel like I could’ve written this comment, except my daughter is 3.5. Word for word, everything you’ve said. I’m still struggling to find the magic solution (ha) but I hear you, I’m right there with you, and I hope your daughter, like mine, will know above all else that we love them.

    • Rachel says...

      I’m a mom of a two-year-old boy now and 20 years ago I was the annoying 9-year-old girl. My mom constantly told me “it’s not all about you” which is true but abstract. Maybe if you point out how her behavior is rude or unreasonable she’ll understand more?
      For example:
      “When I’m finished with this other conversation we can talk”
      “We can take turns choosing which restaurant to eat at”
      As an adult I can see immaturity in my parents and I can also relate to the struggle now that I have a kid of my own… we’re all just doing our best! Hope it gets easier for you!

  42. Meredith says...

    I’m the single mother of a 19 month old and every once in a while a post like this just hits me—parenting is SO BIG. I definitely expected the ongoing ‘chores’ of motherhood: laundry, meals, diapers, etc. My #1 goal is to raise a happy, beautiful person who is a positive light in the lives of others. But the idea that this little person is looking TO ME for the answers and the way to be when I am a fallible human is daunting.

    • Emily says...

      Oh, Meredith-we are all fallible humans! It’s the thing that binds us. I’m sure you’re doing a wonderful job. xo

    • Sara B says...

      No kidding! I feel like I spend my days like oh! we need to talk about body safety. Oh! We need to brush teeth. Oh! We need to discuss consent. It just feels like this list of things that I am going to forget and my kids will be missing something. They are all great kids, but good grief. Sometimes our pediatrician will ask us if we’ve started brushing our 6 month old’s teeth or something and I’m like…what?! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THIS STUFF?

  43. K says...

    The first sign I truly knew we were raising a thoughtful human being was when my oldest was 5 and said, “Mom! I used the last of the toilet paper! I had enough but didn’t want you to be surprised later!”

    • Aoife says...

      How sweet! “I didn’t want you to be surprised later!” 😊

    • Emma says...

      Your kid is way more thoughtful than any (adult) roommate I have ever lived with! Congratulations!

    • Julie says...

      LOVE this.

  44. Laura says...

    Thank you!

  45. Lindsey Joy Fox says...

    You mother beautifully. They’re so lucky to have you.
    Xx

  46. Maddie says...

    The Teeny Tiny Stevies have a great song and music video called “Boss of My Body” now all the little ones in Melbourne love that language- plus it has koalas :)
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2ntVdx9SOD4

  47. Whitney says...

    Kindness is so natural to children! My daughter is in a kindergarten class with several children who don’t come from English speaking homes. One girl, in particular, refused to speak in front of the class for the first two months of school. When she finally spoke at morning circle time, the entire kindergarten class erupted with applause -unprompted. This shows me that children are great at empathizing and if we encourage them to think about others and how they are feeling, they will act in a kind way intuitively.

  48. Wendy says...

    I once read that it helps kids develop empathy if you create a ritual where they share what they wish for, not just for themselves, but for other people in their lives. For example what specific things do they wish for their brother, mom, friend, crossing guard, etc. The exercise helps them think about what other people need or hope for and empowers them to reach out and help when possible. When my kids were little they would write down their wishes and then brainstorm ways to make them come true. Sometimes the wishes were too large or unattainable, but then we would think of other ways to make the person feel happy or cared for. Now that they are teenagers we still do a version of this at Thanksgiving— along with saying what we’re thankful for, we say what we wish/hope for each person at the table.

    • Anna says...

      this is really special…and good for adults, too! i am going to try it myself. :)

    • Grace says...

      This is so lovely Wendy! I’m going to suggest changing it up at Thanksgiving this year with this idea.

    • Laura Doherty says...

      yes – i totally agree. when i was a kid, my brother and i made christmas lists, but they had to include wishes for others. my brother one year wished for santa to bring food to all the dogs in shelters, i used to wish that santa wouldn’t forget the kids in hospital.

  49. Christina says...

    I have two daughters, ages 2 and 5 next month(!). I adopted “you’re the boss of your body” in our house after reading about it for the first time here. It’s really powerful to me and delivers a message that I try to make an ever-present theme in our house. Except at a recent doctor’s appointment, when it was time for shots, my 4-year-old was tearfully resisting letting me or the nurse expose her arm, because she did NOT want a shot. I tried gently explaining the reason for the shot and showed her the Frozen stickers and band-aid that would come after, etc. until she finally looked at me, then the nurse, and yelled, “IT’S MY BODY AND I’M THE BOSS!” She also uses this when she doesn’t want her hair brushed. What then, Joanna, WHAT THEN? :-)

    • Emily says...

      My sister had a similar mantra for my niece when she was small. She couldn’t say her “d’s” so would say, “It’s my bobby!”

      She is now 25 years old. I will never forget taking her to the mall to buy some new shoes and she was tired of trying on different pairs. She stood up on the chair in the middle of the department store shoe section and yelled, “IT’S MY BOBBY DON’T TOUCH ME!!!”

      I did not, in fact, buy her shoes that day. I think I bought her ice cream!

    • Quinn says...

      Haha, oh gosh – I’ve been in almost that exact same situation! The only difference was that the conversation happened in advance of the appointment for the shots. My husband and I responded along the lines of “Yes, you are the boss of your body [thank you CoJ for the idea!], but it’s also our job as your parents to keep you safe, and the shots are medicine that will keep your body safe from some very bad germs that can make you very sick.” Thankfully there have only been one or two exceptions to the rule (so far at least), but we have used ‘safety’ as the one reason that takes precedent. I did give in on the hair brushing — eventually my daughter came around. Good luck to us both! :)

  50. Fiona says...

    What a wonderful article. I work in mental health and would add to model empathy and compassion for yourself as the parent where you can – for the way you act and (especially as women) the way you look. Teach that we can show ourselves compassion and still be accountable and that being self-critical is not the only way to motivate ourselves, that self-compassion is a great motivator too.

  51. J. says...

    One thing I try to remember, talk about (in a careful way), and model is that most cruelty or expressions of meanness, anger, mocking come from a person who is experiencing deep feelings of hurt, pain, shame, lack of control, insecurity, etc. (“Hurt people hurt people”).

    This isn’t intended to excuse or absolve people who choose to do bad things or inflict hurt purposefully, but rather to demonstrate that if we acknowledge children’s inevitable feelings of pain and shame (because we are all human!) and to honor them and treat them with curiosity and gentleness instead of a panicked “I don’t want you to be in pain anymore!!!!!!!!!,” they will learn that these feelings are normal, they’re something that can be worked through with loved ones, etc. I find generally that the kids (and adults, too) who are able to understand this are able to far kinder, as they aren’t subconsciously seeking an outlet for those negative emotions.

    • Aoife says...

      I do something similar. If my little girl comes home from school upset at an arguement with a friend or classmate I will explain that sometimes people say things they don’t mean when they are upset or cross. Or I might wonder why whatever situation happened. “You two usually have lots of fun together. I wonder why she did that? Maybe she was having a bad day? How did that make you feel?” I like to ask how she felt about it so I’m not minimising what happened or how it impacted on her while trying to highlight that it’s not always our fault. Sometimes people, especially kids, just spill over if they are “full”.
      I also like the line, “it’s ok. You are still learning” if they have made a mistake or had a melt down.

    • C says...

      I do agree with this but I don’t think it’s always the case either. From what I’ve seen there does seem to be a natural progression of little people figuring things out and trying to have some control over their days. At times this leads to exclusion and trying out phrases like, “I don’t like you” or “I like you and you but not you”. With the right adults around to model behavior and speak w them about their words and actions it often fades away rather quickly. I’ve seen this happen around 3.5-4.5 yrs old. What do you think?

  52. Yolanda says...

    There is a great book called renegade rules which is really helpful about this situation. It explains how to help your child deal with these kinds of situations at different ages, starting with you advocating for them. What I really like about it is that it has lots of sample phrases you can use as an adult, and then ones you can teach your child. I found it awkward to do this in a playground with a stranger’s child but these sample phrases really helped. It’s a great all round book but I especially liked that section.

  53. Mary says...

    My husband and I have a rule that we live by with our kids, if they ask us a question, we will answer it honestly – even if it’s not fun.
    For example when my son asked us if Santa was real, we honestly answered “no, it’s just a fun story to tell during Christmas. But, let’s not tell other kids about that because it’s fun to pretend that Santa is real!” Or after talking to our kids about sex, when my 8yr old asked his dad “does it hurt when you put your penis in?” My husband hilariously said, “no! IT FEELS GREAT!”
    Sometimes for more complex topics we simply answer “it’s hard to explain, you just have to trust us on this one.”

    • Jade says...

      I am 30 and my parents adopted this philosophy when raising my twin brother and I and I am so so grateful! To this day my mother will say to us – you can ask me anything and I will tell you the truth but sometimes you might not like the answer. Over the years we have discussed everything from Santa to abortion and she has kept her word and I am better for it.

  54. My 9 & 12 year old argue daily. I try to remember not to assign blame. I borrow a phrase from a friend who is a mom of 6. She says, “You’re both wrong.” And proceeds to acknowledge the actions of each person in the disagreement, rather than punishing one for hitting or calling names.

    • Emily says...

      I’ve read somewhere, maybe even here, that when siblings argue, a parent can ref from the sidelines by just repeating what they see. I have a single child but thought that is probably useful advice!

    • Midge says...

      I used to be the judge and we had prosecution and defense. I put my arms around both kids, and the aggrieved party got to speak first, then the defendant. Then there were rebuttals. Then I would ask them both if they could think of a way to compromise, and we’d hear both ideas in turn. Usually by that point they could problem solve from there, but occasionally I would help them craft a compromise or we’d all agree it was time for everyone to be apart for a bit. If an apology was necessary, the first attacker (not always the defendant!) apologized first, and then I’d ask the other, “do you think X thinks you should apologize for anything?” Then everyone had to make a silly face. And then I kissed them both. The first few times took a while as we got the system down, and after a while they really got a sense of when something had to go to “court.” It was the exact same progression every single time, so I do think it felt safe and balanced and nonjudgmental. Another plus: I haven’t had to get involved for YEARS and they’re now 11 and 14. Hooray, justice system!

  55. Mouse says...

    I know that this applies to girls as well as boys, but in our current moment it feels incredibly important to help boys in particular choose kindness. American men–and maybe other places too?–are really struggling right now and do not have very good role models in popular culture and political culture. When I see other people’s male children (I don’t have any) behaving empathetically and kindly it gives me hope for our future. As do Toby and Anton generally……

    • Kelsi says...

      I agree with you on this. An old friend of my husband’s recently committed suicide, and he came home from the service upset that every male who got up to speak avoided saying anything along the lines of, “if you’re hurting, talk about it. Seek help.”
      We live in a very “bro” surfing community and the emotional intelligence of the men here is, in general, extremely low.
      It’s so important to teach boys (and of course, all kids) to talk about their feelings and model emotional intelligence, empathy, and asking for help.

  56. We use “you are the boss of your body” to give our kid agency. But we also use it so that he knows everyone else also possesses this agency. This seems culturally normal in America but, in France, this is different. We spend a lot of time in Strasbourg for work and I have to be careful to not use this phrase around parents because whenever I do, everyone is earshot erupts into laughter. I have no idea why it elicits this response! Once, at a party a woman almost fell over laughing, exclaiming “that is the most American thing for a mother to say!”

    • Dee says...

      I think perhaps in Europe we share the sentiment but not the parenting style, for us maybe modelling rather than catch phrases seems more usual. As a Brit the phrase does make me CRINGE! As does the American tendency to positively affirm behaviour with the phrase, ‘good job’! Divided by a common language as they say…

    • Louise says...

      I’m in Ireland and I find most do not share the sentiment here and it’s been a battle to have others respect her right to not hug or kiss when she doesn’t want to. I really love spelling it out though and being super clear about things with my daughter, especially regarding social expectations etc. I found that growing up, I often just didn’t learn playground social rules by osmosis like my more streetwise friends did. I had to learn from first principles or have something suddenly become clear when I made a major faux pax like telling tales long after the age it stops being acceptable. All that is to say that I prefer to be literal and very clear with my daughter, down to things like telling her it’s not acceptable to pick her nose in public but it’s ok to do it in private and those private places include the bathroom and her bedroom. I think being clear about these kinds of things avoids the low level shame that comes along with finding their way socially. And regarding the cultural differences each side of the Atlantic, this is one way that I much prefer doing things in the American style

  57. Heather says...

    My daughter is 11 and recently mentioned that some of her classmates used the word “gay” as an insult. She said, “I don’t get why they would say that. I don’t think they want to be mean, but I don’t think they understand how hurtful it can be. I guess I’m just really lucky to have parents who have taught me that everybody is important and we need to treat them that way.”

    My heart nearly exploded! It was probably the most gratifying thing I’ve ever heard as a parent. She’s getting it! This year she’s dealt with having friends who have eating disorders or have started self-harming and I’ve been so proud of her compassionate response. Even though the situations are scary and confusing for her, she is trying to focus on being a good friend who won’t give up on those close to her.

    • Neela says...

      That’s beautiful!

    • Anon says...

      Wow! Well done to you. She sounds like a very well rounded 11 year old!

    • Grace says...

      So proud of your daughter! I still occasionally hear adult men use “gay” as an insult. It’s insane that I have to correct grown ass men on their homophobia and explain why that language is not okay.

    • T says...

      Grace, ‘insane’ is on the out too. ;) Mental health slurs: crazy, insane, psycho – eeep! It’s hard, but I too used to say ‘gay’ and am now horrified by it so I’m confident that I can expand my vocabulary, become like Nigella Lawson who seems to always have JUST the right turn of phrase and leave these ones behind too. Xx

  58. Sarah says...

    I try to speak kindly of others, include, and model being a helper/volunteer/carer of others. We might run a casserole to a friend recovering from surgery, invite a new classmate to play or volunteer at the winter coat distribution. Kids soak it up. My kids love to volunteer with me when there are age appropriate tasks to do. We served a free lunch at a nearby neighborhood center a number of times over the summer. They got to help but also got to connect with classmates who are living in different circumstances but are just kids wanting lunch and to play! I think they’re learning that there are people needing help all around us and there are things that each of us can do to help.

  59. Sarah says...

    Jo, you set the bar high and I appreciate that.

    My daughter just turned two. We spend a lot of time making sure we acknowledge her feelings. If she’s sad or mad we say so and give her a hug, even if shes mad because we scolded her. When she’s happy, we make a point to laugh along and be silly with her. I truly believe that before children can understand the emotions of others, they have to understand themselves. Now when she sees a baby crying she says “baby sad” and sometimes she’ll even offer a hug or a toy! It’s such a small thing, but It makes me hopeful that we’re on the right track.

  60. Michelle says...

    My son was severely speech-delayed when he started kindergarten, and as a result I always notice and am so impressed by the “kind kids”. Smart, creative, funny kids are a dime a dozen in my experience but naturally kind and empathetic young kids are so rare when it comes to differences.
    One instance I will never forget: At the public library one day he went up to multiple kids trying to show them something in a book. About five or six (perfectly nice and mannered, I’m sure) kids were weirded out and moved away from him. OUT OF NOWHERE this 9 or 10 year old boy walked up to him and said- “I want to see!” He showed him and babbled a bunch of unintelligible info and this kid walked around with him for ten minutes picking out books and reading them to him! I was completely gobsmacked- he wasn’t even prompted by a parent. When his mom came to get him, I was in tears and told her what her son did and that he was one-in-a-million, and that she should be so proud of him. I still think about that boy years later and it makes me happy to know he’s out there somewhere making his world a kinder place.

    • Abbie says...

      This made me tear up. I can’t think of anything I would be more touch by as a parent!

    • Molly says...

      I agree whole-heartedly! I remember a 9-year-old girl who took my 3-year-old under her wing so he was comfortable navigating the humongous play place at the zoo. She hung out with him for a good 15 minutes while they were passed up by tons of other kids so he could go at a pace that was comfortable for him. Also last year when we took him to a pumpkin patch when he was about 2 1/2, there was a huge group of kids from an inner-city program who were much older than him, and they all welcomed him into their group and let him play with them and follow them around.

    • Leanne says...

      My little guy is 6 and he’s totally this kid. He sits with kids who aren’t feeling well, and offers to help people who are hurt with the tasks they’re trying to accomplish, and picks up on kids who may need someone to play with. He remembered a friend’s younger brother was to get a toy he was coveting when he mastered potty training and saw him with the toy and ran out of class at school to congratulate him and tell him how proud he is of him. I can’t take credit for it – I think it’s just his nature – but my mama heart just EXPLODES with pride and joy whenever I hear these stories. I tell him often that nothing will ever make me prouder than his kindness.

    • Kristin says...

      That’s really lovely! We need more people like him in the world.

    • Mallory says...

      “Smart, creative, funny kids are a dime a dozen in my experience but naturally kind and empathetic young kids are so rare when it comes to differences.” This is so true. I will never forget a time when I was in primary school, there was a boy in my year who was “different” — One day on the playground he had an emotional episode: screaming, crying, and rolling around on the ground. I remember being terrified and not knowing what to do. A bunch of kids (myself included) crowded around and just stared at this poor crying boy. Suddenly, I saw my younger sister (she couldn’t have been older than seven) push through the crowd of staring children, sat down next to the boy and held his hand. She stayed with him until a teacher came to walk the boy away. I tear up every time I think of that day. Some kids truly are special. I’m lucky to have one as my sister.

  61. Bridget Rose Meehan says...

    I love this post but I am distressed to hear that Toby no longer has his wife and kids. I loved hearing about them! <3

    • Kate says...

      Same. I hope Toby has been handling the divorce ok.

    • Kari says...

      Kate and Bridget – In the midst of these really sweet, emotional comments, yours made me crack up. Hope it was an amicable split. lol!

  62. Tracy says...

    I love all of these tips for myself , and I’m a 40 year old woman with no kids but I appreciate all of these and I’m so grateful for this post today.

  63. Carol says...

    I’m raising two boys, ages 6 and 9, and there are moments of great kindness but also moments when they are hitting each other! I try to keep perspective by thinking of raising kids as a long game. There will always be moments when our kids don’t make the choice we wish they would have made. But we talk it through and work toward making a better choice next time. And little by little, I see them becoming kinder and more empathetic.

    • Whalin says...

      So much this!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! love this perspective and feel the same.

  64. Emma says...

    We talk about kindness a lot with our two year old. Recently he’s started saying, “That’s not kind!” when we ask him to do something he’d rather not. Haha all you can do is keep trying! The end goal is a kind, well adjusted adult. We have until then!

    • janine says...

      I love it when kids turn your own phrases back on you. I asked my son to hand me something recently and he responded, “I think you’re perfectly capable of getting it yourself” and I was like… uh, I think I know where he heard that one!!!!

    • Alexandra says...

      Emma – I feel you. The #1 rule at my son’s daycare is “Be Kind” and he’s internalized it to the point that every “no” in our house is followed by him shouting “YOU’RE NOT BEING KIND RIGHT NOW!”

    • Leanne says...

      Kids are so smart! A tiny neighbourhood gal definitely uses “my body, my choice!” as a reason not to put on her coat or have a bath… it’s frustrating to parent these kiddos, but at the same time, it’s so impressive to see them connect things.

    • Nicole says...

      Janine – you made me LOL!

      My 5-year-old will ask me to do something & if I hesitate at all he’ll say “just do your best!” :)

    • Meg says...

      Yep. They’re smart. My partner’s ex recently talked with their sons (4 and 5) about consent and boundaries. She told them, “No means no.” Good message for the context. About a week later, I was telling the younger of the two that he needed to put away the toys he had been playing with before he took out anything else. He said no, and I repeated myself, telling him that I would help him and we could put them away together. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “No means no.” It was pretty hard not to start laughing.

  65. Little Miss says...

    i am always very concerned on raising kind people but i really dont know how.however, my number one rule in life is lead by example. so when my nephew was saying good bye one sunday evening and jumped out of the car to ask if there is something wrong because he had noticed my face didnt seem very happy (i indeed had several issues in my head) i said…damn!these are really good kids!
    it didnt stop there…next weekend,when he saw me again, he grabbed my face,looked me in the eyes and asked if i really am ok :)

  66. L.G. says...

    During dinner every night we are all expected to ask questions of one another. Our boys (6 and 4) need to ask 3 thoughtful questions of people at the table — whether we are eating at Nana’s, a friend is joining us, or we are enjoying a night out. I love encouraging their curiosity about their parents’ lives, other adults, your brother, and think it helps frame context for kindness starting at home. A favorite question is: What was the best part of your day? With the disclaimer that it can’t be RIGHT NOW – ha! If someone at the table had a hard day we talk about ways we can give them “a little extra love.” I really believe nurturing kindness starts with finding ways to be curious about one another, which helps kids (and adults!) relate better, and show up for each other.

  67. Kara says...

    One of my parenting mantras is: kids pay way more attention to what you do than to what you say. With any value that I am trying to teach (kindness, caring for the environment, the importance of reading, etc.), I first think about whether I am doing a good job of role-modeling that value in front of my son and in interactions with my son. Kids are so quick to pick up on when a parent is being hypocritical or inconsistent!

  68. Marie says...

    My daughter’s second grade teacher started the school year off by having “kindness awards” at the end of each day. (She’s so brilliant!!!!) During afternoon circle, the children got to nominate three people each day for doing something kind. The “winners” received a sticker and — the big prize — got to feed the class goldfish (brilliantly named “Hot Sauce”). :D

  69. Marie says...

    I’m the lucky mother of two really sweet, kind children (son, 9-1/2, and daughter, 7). My husband and I grew up in households with loud, angry parents who lashed out verbally all the time. We have made it a number one priority in our house to not speak like that, ever, to each other OR to our children. We treat the kids as rational beings; we acknowledge their feelings and talk them through. They really are capable of understanding so much. And we love on them constantly — kisses, hugs, verbal recognition for being nice to each other, to a friend, to the dog, to a grandparent, to the environment, etc. We give them an allowance, and talk about saving, spending, and giving.

    A couple weeks ago, my husband was home sick, and my 9-year old, upon coming home from school, went upstairs to check on him. “Can I get you anything, Dad? Do you want another blanket? A glass of water? Want me to read to you?” It was sooooooo sweet to see him care-taking like that, and we both told him how much we love seeing him behave like that.

    • Angela says...

      You are winning at parenting! #goals That is the sweetest thing!

  70. Katie Peshek says...

    Love your tips! We try hard in our family to instill that we all need to take care of each other – it’s not just mom and dad doing everything for the kids, but that as a family we need to help and support all the members of the family. Also, volunteering with your kids is a great way to expose them to issues that they might not otherwise think about.

  71. SuzieQ says...

    When kiddos are at their worst, be your best. Dig deep to hug instead of scream. Push through on healthy habits instead of giving in to scream-crying. Promise “there is nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you” instead of threatening consequences. Don’t let them hit you. Don’t let them be hit. Kids raised with radical compassion yet real boundaries learn how to become kind adults with a backbone.

    • Ana D says...

      Your whole comment is golden.

      “Don’t let them hit you. Don’t let them be hit.”
      +
      “Kids raised with radical compassion yet real boundaries learn how to become kind adults with a backbone.”
      = YES x100.

    • Neela says...

      This is the reminder I need to give myself constantly, but it’s so hard! We have a wonderful rambunctious 3 yr old, who, god knows why, delights in hurting others. We don’t model it, and it’s become our number one rule, ‘don’t hurt people’. But when I’m at the end of a long day, and I’m carrying him to his bed to put his pyjamas on, it’s so hard not to scream when he pulls my hair. Im totally at a loss, but am praying daily that it is just a phase… I’m so envious of these people with their kind children- he will get there, if our efforts pay off, but it certainly doesn’t come naturally to some!

    • Rae says...

      Love every sentence you wrote SuzieQ. Thanks!

    • SuzieQ says...

      Thanks! Xo

  72. Caitlin says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    What we have tried with our 19 month old boy son is getting him to think about a different choice he could make when he feels like hitting/biting/kicking (please tell me these are normal toddler urges!). “I see you feel like biting Mama. That would hurt! Maybe you could give her a kiss/wave/walk away instead.”

    We also practice taking deep breaths when he is losing it. “It seems like your brain isn’t in charge right now. Let’s take a deep breath and practice relaxing.”

    After at least 6-9 months, it is working!! It makes my mama heart so proud to see him taking deep breaths and giving me kisses when he is starting to lose it.

    My hope is that as a teenage boy and grown man, he can recognize that while it’s normal to have impulses to act in certain ways, he can still be in charge of making kinder choices.

    • Y says...

      Hi Caitlin,
      I don’t know if you are already trying Baby Signs, but when my children were that age it really helped them express themselves when they didn’t have the verbal language yet and cut WAY down on the outbursts. I have just recently started the deep breathing with my teenager though and boy does that make a difference with a teenage outburst!

  73. Like all parents, I try my best to be calm, patient, kind and respectful. And like all parents, I sometimes fall short.

    The other day I became particularly frustrated and spoke in a harsh manner to my 2 year old son. My three year old daughter looked up at me and said, “Mama, that was unkind.”

    I took a centering breath and responded, “Yes. You are right. That was unkind. Walden (my son’s name), I am very sorry that I spoke to you unkindly. That must have hurt your feelings. Can we try again?”

    “Yes Mama.”

    And so we did. Instead of feeling all the shame and guilt that might normally accompany a loss of temper, I felt compassion towards myself and grateful for the sweet reminder that kindness is something we weave into our everyday moments, starting with how we treat ourselves.

    Love this post and love all of the thoughts and ideas around it!

    • Quinn says...

      I can totally relate to this. Our family motto is ‘be kind’ (although I really like “choose kindness” noted in one of the other comments here), but sometimes after a stressful day of work or if I’m especially tired, I’ll revert back to bad habits (I grew up in a house with plenty of yelling). It’s so easy to immediately feel full of shame and guilt, but I try to have compassion with myself, tell my kids that I made a mistake and reconnect with them as soon as possible. Hopefully they will learn it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s important to repair the damage and ultimately choose kindness.

  74. b says...

    Teach kids about systemic inequality and power – especially white children, children of heterosexual parents, and children born with economic advantages. The world will quickly teach children the ways it justifies exclusion, it is a parent’s job to teach them history, social structures, and the importance of calling out inequality, even when it’s scary.

    • Nadege says...

      THIS. YES.

    • Laurel says...

      So so true! Thank you for centering this in the kindness conversation, which can absolve people unless we get systemic in our kindness practices.

    • Kristin says...

      Well said, B.

    • Maryann Moore says...

      this is a very good reminder. thank you for sharing

    • Emma says...

      While I do agree with this, I also do not want to make my children feel inherently guilty for the situation in which they have been born. I want them to know they are lucky and that they need to always try their hardest to make smart choices, but no guilt at their accidental fortune, or for others’ accidental misfortune.

    • June says...

      @Emma This is a really disturbing response to @B’s comment. There is no such thing “accidental fortune” or “accidental misfortune.” I suggest you do some serious reading up on systemic inequality before you continue to teach your kids about how “lucky” they are. Unless you’ve recently won the lotto, luck had absolutely nothing to do it.

    • Laurel says...

      A million times yes to this comment!

      “Focusing on the dream of an equitable future without teaching the reality of an inequitable present ignores the radical anti-racism work that King and his contemporaries undertook at great risk and greater cost. It paints the false narrative that kindness is all we need to make social progress. And worse, it suggests that kindness has already won.”

      For readers who’d like a deeper dive on how the importance of teaching more than just kindness, check out Bret Turner’s article (where that quote is from) in the recent issue of Teaching Tolerance: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2019/teaching-kindness-isnt-enough

  75. Jess says...

    I used to worry about how to raise kind children. Now I know that they treat others how they are treated by me at home. So if I am kind to them (and apologize when I’m not), I know I am raising kind people. No gimmicks or catch phrases needed.

    • Anon says...

      True.

  76. Courtney says...

    I love “you’re the boss of your body” — I picked it up from CoJ and have been trying to instill it into my 2.5 year old daughter. I haven’t seen her use it in practice. But this weekend, I was affectionately patting her tush while we played a game and she suddenly became very serious, turned to me, held up her arm and said: “Mama, keep your body to yourself, keep your hands to yourself.” I was floored, and super proud, and a little chagrined. And I genuinely wonder who has given her that language to declare her boundaries (thanks, mystery person)!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s amazing, courtney! love that.

  77. Nikie Micheli says...

    Kids are full of questions and letting them know that you don’t have the answer to everything or that you need time to think about it is very empowering. Responding with “Let’s look that one up together” or “I need to think about it before I respond” signals that life is a learning process and the quick answer is not always the best.

  78. jd says...

    my daughter is very empathetic and will always find reasons why someone might not be acting their best version of themselves which, i think is such a wonderful quality about her. that being said, i make sure to continue on the discussion to make sure that she knows that mistreating others, regardless of one’s “bad day” etc.. is never acceptable and should not be a reason to justify their behavior especially when it can be harmful.

    • SuzieQ says...

      Yes! This. So vital.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, such a great point. thank you for this.

    • MichConnors says...

      Yes, I struggle with this one too as a new parent who will soon have a little boy who will ask all these questions. I don’t know if it’s always right to excuse away negative behavior because of “bad days.” Does that mean it’s OK for the child to act out and say “I was having a bad day.”

      I think it’s also good to model sticking up for yourself and not letting people walk all over you.

    • Olivia says...

      I sort of wonder how I will teach my own daughter this because frankly I have learned the hard way that “giving someone the benefit of the doubt” often ends up hurting me and helping them. My life actually changed radically and I stopped being a doormat and started being someone people respect when I stopped giving the benefit of the doubt. This applies more to strangers/acquaintances as opposed to friends or family I know and love (ie I know they have good character).

      This change in mindset happened in the context of a patient’s angry family member nearly getting physical with me (I’m a PA) and it really shook me to my core. Of course physical altercations are very different than someone being rude at a store or what have you, but regardless the lesson has applied to me speaking up at work, on the phone with companies, and dealings with the world at large.

      Anyway, that’s my musing for now. Id love to hear thoughts about raising a child who is both empathetic and compassionate but who also sets firm boundaries and insists on being treated appropriately.

      I guess what I’m really delving into is the difference between “be nice” (cringe) and “be kind.”

  79. I think about this a lot! My daughter is almost 4 and she is hilarious, strong, incredibly smart and verbal, and super FUN. But, even starting around 18 months, I noticed she’s not very…sweet? Kind? I mean, she has her moments. But it’s something I want to work on with her…especially the idea of inclusiveness. Right now she’s been talking about her birthday party for MONTHS (it’s not till January) and often talks about who is invited and who is not. Much to my chagrin, she’s also talked it up as the party of the century with her preschool classmates, and uses the “invitations” as a little power currency. It’s so disturbing! But I realize I’m bringing in my own baggage and not allowing her to figure out social stuff. I just keep trying to reiterate that it’s more fun to include people than to leave anyone out.

    Also, our family has a motto: “Thompsons are brave, kind, and creative!” (I chose “kind” instead of “nice” because I think “nice” can be problematic for a lot of girls/women, and I chose “creative” because I wanted to find a way to show her that we make our own fun, think outside the box, problem solve, etc.!)

    • Kelly says...

      i think that’s really common behavior in preschoolers who are exploring how to be social creatures! I wouldn’t let it disturb you!

    • Patricia says...

      I used to worry about this with my daughter too! She is now seven and truly kind and inclusive. But when she was younger, she would exert her natural leadership over children that were more timid. I always praised her confidence, and noticed and complimented all of the times I saw her being kind and inclusive. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy…I constantly told her how kind she was, and now she is! (And probably always was, but she was just figuring out all of the social stuff).

    • Alex says...

      Agreeing with Kelly here. I’m a former Montessori preschool teacher and this is a super common preschool girl behavior. We were taught as teachers that this kind of behavior is a form of control the child learns to exert as she is discovering her own autonomy. When little girls learn that they can manipulate people they find all kinds of ways to exert this newfound “tool.” As adults it is our job to teach them how to be kind, as ultimately it’s in their own best interest and in the best interest of the community as a whole.

    • Oh, thank you for reassuring me! Kelly and Alex, it helps to know that it’s normal, and Patricia I like how you connected it with your daughter’s natural leadership skills… my daughter is also a natural leader and I do worry about her using that for good rather than “evil” haha. Thanks for encouraging me to speak a kind identity over her, too! MB, that Onion article is amazing.

    • M says...

      Exactly the same problem here. Same hypothetical party. Same comments to friends (and me and her dad when she is happy/cross with is she will invite or uninvite is to her party!).

  80. Rae says...

    So meaningful that you listed #3 — Teach Empathy and followed it with #4 Teach Consent. We have such a culture of asking children to be pliant, flexible, and generous with their love and trust (such as asking them to kiss a relative who may be a stranger, or to smile at a shopkeeper who might scare them). It is so important to build in the care for themselves and their boundaries while giving them the social skills to navigate the world.

    • Leanne says...

      We had a kindergarten teacher who taught the kids to check in with each other while they were playing (superheroes can get a touch rough sometimes). They got to the point where if someone looked unhappy they would stop and ask if they were still having fun. If not, they talked through it and made a rule they could agree on that would help the game be fun again before they resumed. If yes, they would go back to regular play. If someone got hurt, they’d stop and go through this rule-process and ask their friend what they needed to feel better. This blew my mind: enthusiastic consent and empathy taught through such a natural, every day situation.

  81. KellyN says...

    #6 is so important. Accepting them let’s them feel their worthiness without shame and give them confidence.

  82. Jean says...

    Lead by example, it’s the only way.

  83. Amanda says...

    I’ve been launching my own protests at my inlaw’s family dinners against the women jumping up to clean since I became a mother. When that time comes, I simply leave the room and go hang out with the kids. If something looks like it needs help I simply say, “DH looks like your mom needs a hand. Go ahead, I got the kids.” And THAT IS THAT.

    • Kelly says...

      amen sister! My husband is one of 10 kids – 8 boys and 2 girls. and when we were first married i was APPALLED to see that only his sisters and sisters-in-law helped on holidays! so i laid down the law and said, you’re responsible for any dishes we need to bring to your families’ parties and for being a helper at those parties, and I’ll do same for my family.

      to date he is the only male including the next generation who does this (grrrr), but at least my girls are seeing their daddy take on these responsibilities.

      I also make all kids above 6 years old or so – boys and girls – help clear the table after meals at my house – so many homes I go to only ask the girls to help with stuff like this! AAAAAAH!

    • M says...

      Love this approach!

  84. Christie says...

    My best friend and son’s godmother bought him a book called Chin Up, Chinchilla by, Beth Stafford for Christmas. It is about a little hedgehog who imagines what could have possibly happened to his friend chinchilla to cause him to have a bad day. It is such a sweet book that teaches empathy and compassion to young children.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Christie! We’re actually running a sale on the book for Thanksgiving week if anyone else is interested in checking it out! happycargobooks.com/shop/holiday-gift-bundle

  85. Ji says...

    I struggle so much with raising a kind person! My 3 year old boy is used to waiting in line, saying “please”, not grabbing toys… Little things I find important to raise him a kind person. But lately, when we are in social situations with other kids (our friends’ children), he seems to be completely run over by same aged children… So he is left completely confused (“why does*name of friends’ son* is using the swings if I was here waiting in line?”) and I admit, I am also confused on how to act… Should I allow it? Intervene? Tell my son to stand for himself? And what would be the limit of that? Will he end up being bullied because he is kind as if that made him “weak”?

    • Rae says...

      I really relate to this Ji — and despite being a teacher and feeling like I have good advice for a group of children, I have struggled with this with my own kids. I have decided that for me, the focus needs to be “be kind to others and yourself.” In the example you gave with the swings, I might say “speak up – let your friend know that you were waiting. That is being kind to yourself.” My shy daughter struggles with this one but I can see how the children who are kind but also have self-respect are the ones who do the best socially at school.

    • M says...

      I struggle with this too! I have a three year old son also and this is such a challenge for the both of us. I try to keep myself cool and collected because I don’t want him to feel like a victim that needs to be “rescued” by his mom. Hoping to hear some feedback from moms whose children have grown past this stage and how to deal in the meantime.

    • Louisa says...

      I say “different families have different rules.” Because everyone has different definitions of “polite,” and every kid has different timelines for gaining consistent self-control.

    • Claire Walker says...

      I struggle with this too! My 5yo son is empathetic and sensitive but I don’t want him to be taken advantage of – as we enter elementary school with lots of new dynamics (90 other kindergartners, mixed age recess – up to 5th grade, less access to his teachers/administrators) this is something I have been thinking about a lot.
      One thing that I have been trying is asking my son to remember that he cannot control other people. He can control his reactions and be the best he knows he can be, but that doesn’t mean other people will always do what he thinks is right or best. I’m also trying to give him tactics for deciding when to walk away/tell an adult/or try to work it out with the other children. This seems to make the problem feel less large, because he’s not in charge of everyone else, just himself.

    • S says...

      I struggled with this too. After a while I just learned to say, “maybe xyz hasn’t learned to abc yet. Remember how hard it was for you too in the beginning?” I don’t want my son to be pushed over either so I reinforce that he’s right. The other person *should* respect the person standing in line (or whatever it is) so I also encourage him to say something like, “Excuse me, I was waiting in line and it’s my turn now. Could you please let me have the swing?”

      It’s not easy and it’s not going to work every time but the truth is, the world isn’t a fair place. I don’t think it’s wrong to be honest with kids and tell them not everyone is fair all the time. I think it frees them from the burden of wondering what they did wrong or what they should do differently. I keep it simple, “Nobody’s perfect, including us. So they’re not being fair right now. Maybe later they will be.”

      My son routinely repeats this now at age 7. When he slips up he sighs and says, “I know that wasn’t right but nobody’s perfect”. He’s also more accepting of my mistakes when I am not the best mom and says, “It’s ok, nobody’s perfect, please try not to do that again”. I also once caught him muttering, “Babies are never fair” about our friend’s little one. :)

      As a Hindu it’s also easier for me to put things in Karmic terms. We’re lucky to have stories that reinforce how karma catches up on a more cosmic scale and not expect “instant justice” each time. I use these too, to help my son understand that every action has a consequence even if we can’t see it before our eyes. YMMV on this one, of course, but just putting it out there.

      Ultimately, we want to raise our children to do what’s right irrespective of how others around us behave. So I feel it’s never too early to gently reinforce the idea that they might not get the response they’re looking for but we just don’t do .

      The fact that you’re wondering about this is half the battle won, IMO :) I felt like your question really spoke to me. Good luck from India!

      – S

      ps: CoJ team. I’m as far removed from NYC as one can get but I do read the comments on the Motherhood posts because Mommy hearts are alike wherever we are…

    • Kelly says...

      I would love to hear more about how to handle other little “meanies” at the park/school etc. It’s easy to say adults may not be having a good day and that’s why they might be grouchy. But other kids sometimes; dang! My son has alopecia and has come face to face with some really harsh reactions for his sweet bald head. I sometimes struggle with how to deal with other kids’ mean remarks or rudeness. We always talk about it later and sometimes I’m able to talk to the kid in the moment just to say “Ya know, some kids don’t have hair, that’s all!” And I’ve seen that help the ones that are simply curious, but I know that won’t always be the case. I feel like I’m battling the narrative my son has of “He was mean to me, he’s a bad kid.” It’s so hard to explain some kids just say things that aren’t very nice. But they’re likely good kids…and, still try to play with them?? Asking him to just ignore it doesn’t seem helpful. I get a little lost in it all.

    • Katie Hermesmeyer says...

      I don’t have children, but I was a kind and sensitive child whose parents taught me good manners and empathy. I was easily your son and it wasn’t until college that I realized I had to stick up for myself and it wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I really learned how to advocate for myself.

      So, to you, I say you can teach your son to be both kind and to advocate for himself. It’s how you model your behavior.

      Advocacy: Step in and remind people about “turns” so he knows he can do so. If he’s playing with a toy and another kid takes it without asking, say something. Do so in a polite but firm tone.

      Kindness – Be open. Help others. Be inclusive. Say please and thank you. One of the ways I learned to be kind is by respecting everyone no matter who they are. A delivery person. A waiter or waitress. The bus driver. The old lady down the street who needed help with something. My dad went out of his way to help people.

      I will say this, my husband once told me the thing he loves most about me is that I’m a kind person. I push back because I don’t want the world to know I’m truly a softy. But it’s the best compliment I’ve ever received.

    • Kelly says...

      everybody is working on something and needs their parents to help channel their strongest traits to their best expression!

      I have one kiddo who is more likely to be run over because she was meekly waiting her turn and one is more likely to do the running over. At 3, i would certainly feel free to step in and model speaking up for him if he’s waiting in line and not getting his turn. You could also praise the other kid for his fearlessness, his energy or whatever positive trait he is expressing (in most cases a 3yo cutting in line is not a bully but is developmentally just starting to understand social rules and may not have them front of mind at all times) and then remind him and assist him with waiting in line. Once they hit 5 or 6 i would do more role playing and coaching behind the scenes while telling them you’re confident they can handle things when you’re not around!

    • Christie says...

      Sometimes, I feel like we teach kindness to mean not standing up for yourself or asserting yourself. The two are not the same but also not incompatible. Here on Cup of Jo, she had a piece on parenting in Germany and how children are expected to stand up for themselves. I think the balance is in teaching children to deal with battles themselves and to give them the words and tools to do so. Some kids need more pushing than others. I have three kids and I don’t have time or patience of tattle-telling and I discourage it. But I do try to teach them to resolve things amicably and come to me when they can’t. Recently, at an event, two children ran up to me to tell me that my five-year-old had pulled their hair and was chasing them. I told them I was sorry that he did that and they should stop playing with him. I made no attempt to involve myself in their fight. I got total stink-eye from their mothers, but I don’t want to be in that battle. The girls needed to fight their own fights, and my son needed to learn a lesson that you don’t have friends if you are mean. I couldn’t teach him that by lecturing. I did talk to him later about using his hands instead of his words, and he said the girls were coming up and yelling in his face and wouldn’t leave him alone when he tried to get away. So, two sides to every story.

    • Emma says...

      I want to echo what others are saying about the distinction between ‘being kind’ and ‘standing up for yourself.’ Both are important!

      Being a doormat is NOT being kind–being kind is an active thing. Also, choosing to see people in a positive light, or with a sympathetic framework, doesn’t mean that you somehow lose respect for yourself. It’s not a zero-sum game.

      Growing up I feel like I was always taught to let people do whatever and still be nice to them–in fact, I was taught that when other people were mean, it was my responsibility to make them like me–it was probably MY fault. I wasn’t taught any kind of boundaries, and it was really harmful!

      At the same time, I wasn’t really taught how to truly go out of my way and be kind to other people. I play baseball in an adult amateur league, and recently in an ‘all star’ game (people from different teams mixed together), there was someone I didn’t know on our side who was super upset after the game (long story). Anyway, I felt totally paralyzed–I could see this person hurting, and no one else was reaching out to him, but I really did not know what to do or say. Eventually we did talk a bit later, and I know that personally I do often just want to be alone in those situations. However–I have SO much respect and admiration for people who don’t worry so much about saying or doing the “right” thing and just reach out. I’m trying to teach myself this belatedly, and I hope if I have children they will learn this better than I did.

  86. Emily says...

    I am the lucky mama to a kind 12-year-old boy. I am often asked what I did to make him who he is and I reflect frequently on what I did when he was extra small to help shape him into the young man he is becoming. I will say, I do think some of it is nature but a lot of it is nurture.

    1. Be kind in your home, even when you disagree–my parents worked so hard for us to never see them argue. But when you are in a family, people argue. I think the best we can do as parents is to model respectful arguing and show our children that resolution is possible. This helps shape a young adult who can face conflict with confidence and kindness.

    2. Model kindness-pay attention to those around you, show them you see them (even strangers). I talk to people in public. If I like someone’s shoes or hat or their dog or their whatever, I tell them. If I can see a person needs my help and I can offer it, I help them. If I notice a kid left on the soccer field as we’re the last to leave-I ask if they need a ride and so on and so forth. Children notice this, particularly the children who are with you in the grocery store, the post office, at the library, in restaurants, etc. And for God’s sake, smile at babies, talk to babies in the checkout line, ask mamas how they’re doing. I am so proud now when I see my son smiling at babies in public. Does anything feel better than getting an adorable baby smile back?

    3. Make please and thank you a priority. It always feels good to say please or to have it said to you and saying thank you is important. Practicing please and thank you is an important part of parenting and growing up. Please and thank you is kind. We need more of both!

    4. Show your kids you’re really listening and that you’re there for them no matter the weather. I was the subject of lonely timeouts as a child whenever I had a tantrum. As a mom, I knew I needed a different way. Time out teaches a child that when they’re losing it, they need to be alone. This was never a message I felt comfortable with so I never did time out with my son. I did a sit and wait approach. When he was at his emotional worst, I just sat on the floor of his room and said, I’m here. It’s okay. This has hands-down been the best thing I did as a parent-now when he is struggling with something, he seeks me out (in his own time). I’ve had to learn to resist my own urge to “solve” and lean into the urge to really listen to him. I’ve grown more as a human in this way than he probably has.

    5. Talk about kindness. Talk about inclusion. Talk about the things you struggle with (age-appropriately) or what has been tough for you or those you love. Talk about the people in his life and your life with kindness and impartiality. Then, urge kindness in action even if it falls outside your comfort zone-shovel for an aged neighbor, take soup to a sick friend, show up as much as you can for those around you.

    6. Have a sense of humor, especially about yourself. The kindest, most genuine people I know have no problem laughing at themselves.

    7. I could clearly go on and on but tell your child you love them for no reason and every reason all rolled into one. It’s so important for children to know they don’t need to get good grades or do well in ballet or perform in some way in order to receive affection. Be kind noticeably in the small, most minor moments of life. Children pick up on this. Kindness is the most contagious thing.

    • Anna Hamill says...

      Fantastic suggestions and thoughts on the topic.

    • this is incredible. Thank you for sharing your insights and tips. I can resonate with them all and try to do the same at home with my 9 and 7 year olds. I really love what you said about the lonely time-outs. I think this can be one of the most challenging things to do – to sit with someone when they are at their worst. And not solve. I sometimes struggle with this but do my best to make my kids not feel isolated when they are struggling and just be there for them. And truly listen. Thank you for the reminder! Keep up what you are doing. We need more like you in the world :)

    • Emily says...

      Beautifully stated!

    • Marie says...

      I wholeheartedly agree with these!

    • SuzieQ says...

      Love these thoughts! Especially smiling at babies, Thanks for sharing.

    • Juliette says...

      I love all this! Thank you!

    • Haylee says...

      I love all of these tips! I especially appreciate the alternative to time out. I was wondering, was it something where when he was throwing a tantrum (let’s say, for having to pick up his toys or for having to put on pants haha) you’d take him to his room, say what was wrong, and then say “I’m here”? I would love you to expound on this more, I just want to learn! Like I said, I love this alternative and want to practice it :)

    • Emily says...

      Hi, Haylee-I so understand your question and it’s a great one. I learned a lot when my son was at the age of tantrums over putting on pants. I would slightly adjust my communication around those types of things–so I would say, do you want pants with a snap at the waist or pants with an elastic waist? I could often circumvent tantrums by changing my wording and giving him some power over his decision. That said, often if a tantrum resulted b/c he refused a direction (like putting on pants or picking up toys), the main idea was lost on him (by the time he was in tantrum mode the “thing” that caused it was forgotten). When he was still little, I could say, I can see you’re upset about cleaning up the toys. Let’s work together and it will go faster. I’d provide gentle help in those situations but mainly my presence. Often, letting a tantrum run its course could result in us being able to complete whatever request may have inspired the tantrum. It’s also so curious to me how company alone can often make a child feel better. Now that my son is older, I notice this with his homework. If he requests my help, often just me being seated with him at the table is help enough. I’ve found in my role as a mother that sometimes just being nearby is support and comfort enough to find one’s way through a challenge.

      Of course, there are moments in life when you do not have time to pause and sit and be present and sometimes a tantrum just has to happen. I found ages 3 and 4 to be the beginning age where I was able to talk with my son post-tantrum to find out ways to better manage ourselves during the tantrum. An example: my child didn’t like his preschool when he was 3-4 and the mornings were really challenging. We instituted some small rewards for him getting out the door without a major freak out but sometimes the car ride still contained major tears. In this example, I was very clear with him that I understood he was unhappy and that I was working to find a new pre-school and that it took some time and he needed to work with me.

      I now offer advice to my friends raising toddlers-in my experience, toddlers are the ultimate reminder that we do not command time. And boy oh boy do they like to remind their mamas of this in the mornings when we need to be out the door! I do now long for the days when following my son around the block could take 45 minutes because he would stop to look at every puddle, every stone, any bug crawling along or any airplane flying overhead and remark with wonder-Plane! Puddle! Bug!

      All of this said, my child is typically developing and was an early talker and early walker so some of these strategies may not apply to children who are dealing with challenges around verbal communication or behavior.

  87. Lucy Harrison says...

    I really like all the suggestions above. One I’d like to add, is that the best way to teach children empathy and compassion is to treat them with empathy and compassion. Validate their emotions; show them that their emotions are understandable, as that’s the first step in helping them work out how to respond to their emotions in a helpful way. All emotions are ok and understandable (eg. Anger, sadness etc). Of course we still put boundaries in for behaviour because not all behaviours are ok (eg. Hitting etc) The Gottman institute is great on this stuff. As is the book “How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk”

    Only when children (and adults!) are treated with empathy, are they able to show that to others. “A child who is not embraced by the village, will burn it to the ground”

    I’m a child psychologist and a new mum. So I know a lot of the theory, but have yet to have to put this all into practice – which I’m sure is easier said than done :)

    • I love that quote so much. As a middle school teacher I wholeheartedly believe it.

    • Emily says...

      How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is a game changer! I recommend it to everyone who will “listen!”

      I credit that book for helping me raise an empathetic and kind child and for improving my own life in ways too numerous to mention.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i LOVE that book, emily. my mom read it when we were little, and i’ve read it now. such smart and down-to-earth advice.

  88. Maryann says...

    Great points, all of them. Number 3 has been a frequent topic of conversation as my sensitive son navigates 8th grade. Snarky comments from peers and friends can land so hard with him. I struggle with trying to be compassionate of others while being empathetic of my son’s feelings, too. So tricky!

  89. Caitlyn says...

    Model, model, model. They’re always watching, and your actions will always speak louder than your words.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, such a great and wise point.

    • Laura says...

      I love this advice!
      I also find that focusing on generosity is important too. I try to explain to my kids that people give gifts to them because they care, and in turn we can give gifts or donate or things or our time because we care about others too. Focusing on the giving is a great antidote to the upcoming commercial season and helps balance out all the wanting and gift getting that time of year.

    • Heather says...

      100% yes – I vividly remember while on a vacation, my mom making the time to get in her weekly phone call to my great grandma because after my great grandpa died she never missed one. It made a big impression on me so when my mom’s dad died, I immediately started my own routine calls (it was infrequent letters before). I’m honestly not sure if it would have occurred to me to start them had I not seen my mom set the example first.

  90. Kellyn says...

    “my biggest pet peeve is when you’re at a family reunion or on a group trip, and all the women jump up to clear dishes after dinner and the men don’t help.”

    YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES

  91. Agnes says...

    I think kids learn from experience – if you’re kind to them, they’ll be kind to themselves and others. Also, kids watch and listen very closely to see how you speak about others. I always remember my dad never speaking ill of anyone. My mom, however, did. I felt much safer with my dad and wanted to emulate him (I’m getting a lot better at this).

    • Agnes says...

      Another thing he would say – ‘nothing else matters as long as you have a kind heart.’ I’ve definitely taken this on as a life mantra.

  92. Elena says...

    I love all six and use them all to some degree, but I’m going to remember to use, “Help with your hands.” It’s direct, but in non-nagging manner. I want to be a nagging parent, said nobody ever! :)

  93. celeste says...

    We’re in this tough stage with our kids where they just want electronics (12, 10). So I’m starting to volunteer at suppers through our church with them, or make food to donate. Wish me luck.

    • Y says...

      That is a wonderful idea and setting a great example Celeste! Good Luck!

  94. Beth says...

    Our family has a motto, which is ‘Always Choose Kindness’. It really can be applied to almost anything- being kind to yourself, your body, your friends, strangers, etc. I love that my kids will come home and tell stories about school like, “Timmy didn’t choose kindness today when…” It helps reinforce that kindness is a choice- not random acts- and we need to make intentionally kind choices all day long.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s beautiful, beth.

    • Alesya says...

      Kindness is a choice and not a random act! Beth, thank you for sharing. You’re helping raise a grown ass woman today too.

    • Sadie says...

      So sweet :)

    • Quinn says...

      I love this. We’ve been using “Be kind” in our family but there is a nuance to “choose kindness” that rings true — it is a choice and not always an easy one, so I can see this being more helpful, especially for my little ones. (And for me on tough days!) Thanks for sharing.