The movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is reminding everyone about the many values Fred Rogers taught us, especially the importance of kindness. But teaching children how to be kind may not be simple. Parenting expert Dr. G (Debi Gilboa, M.D.) makes it easier with three ways parents and caregivers can teach kids how to be kind. Here’s the edited conversation between Dr. G and KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen.
Kristine Sorensen: We all want our kids to be kind. What’s the first step?
Dr. G: The first is empathy. To be kind, you have to notice that somebody could use a kindness. So understanding how to look at someone else’s facial expressions, hear their voice and understand what they might be feeling is part of empathy. A child can learn that by listening to a story, watching something on TV or reading a book, and learning to verbalize how that character or that person is feeling.
Kristine Sorensen: What’s the second way to teach kindness?
Dr. G: The Next step is harder. It’s courage. It’s about having the courage to go up to someone who’s having difficult emotions and find a way to help. It could be quietly drawing them a picture and sliding it to them for someone who isn’t as extroverted. Or it could be noticing what another person is trying to do and figuring out a way you can be helpful. The courage to actually do it is a really big step, so anytime a child is courageous about anything, trying something hard for themselves or eating a new food, anything that takes courage, you want to recognize it.
Kristine Sorensen: Courage is definitely harder. So what’s the third step in teaching kindness?
Dr. G: The third step is actually taking action. The way we encourage our kids to take action is by asking them about it. Say to your middle schooler, “Hey, did you notice anybody having a hard time today?” And if they do, say, “Was there anything you thought you could do to help?” What action would help?
You can also ask, “Did someone help you today through kindness?” “What did that look like?”
What we talk to our kids about we get more of. Even if they weren’t kind three days in a row, that fourth day, they will do something. They’ll think, “I gotta remember if my Mom asks me tonight to have a kindness that I did.”
Kristine Sorensen: Studies show parents are not getting this message of the importance of kindness into their children’s heads, right?
Dr. G: Even though we care about kindness, it’s not getting through to them. A study just came out last week asking middle school parents, “Do you value academic success or kindness more in your child?” Seventy-five percent of parents said kindness.
Then, they asked those people’s middle schoolers, “Do your parents value your academic success or your kindness more?” Eighty percent of the kids said academics. That’s because it’s what we’re asking about and what they get graded on.