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1. Make kindness a daily part of dinner.

Our family has maintained the tradition of saying the “highs and lows” (ie: the best and worst parts) of our days for years now during every dinnertime. Another name for this habit is called “roses and thorns” and recently we heard of “roses, thorns, and buds” with “buds” being the seed of kindness that a person planted that day. Incorporating the “bud” is a way for us to honor and emphasize the importance of making kindness a daily habit. These don’t have to be huge gestures; for young kids it can be including someone on the playground, telling a friend that his drawing is good, etc.

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2.  Expand your child’s inner circle through travel (including armchair travel).

Teaching kids about the lives of people around the world is both fun and educational. Traveling to places that differ greatly from where your family lives can be eye-opening for parents and kids, but if you can’t take a physical trip due to work or budget constraints, you can still make an effort to learn about other cultures and countries through books, movies, music, or the performing arts. Perhaps you’ll unearth a way you and your kids can help a child in need who live across the globe in the process. There are great inspirational books such as Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World or even subscription kits like Little Passports, which teach your kids about different places each month. And while you’re expanding your child’s horizons, don’t forget to include animals, many species of whom desperately need our compassion and kindness.

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3. Make a Kindness Jar.

Give kids a way to actually see kindness. Take an empty mason or canning jar (and let your child decorate it if he or she desires). Each time your child does something kind for someone else, add a coin to the jar. When the jar is full, make a family donation to a favorite cause or use the money for art supplies to make cards for children in the hospital, for example.

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4. Encourage empathy.

During the toddler stage, we often talk about things in black and white terms with less explanation: “We don’t hit” or “we don’t take others’ toys.” Kids that age simply can’t handle a long-winded explanation of WHY we do or don’t do something. Once children are past that stage, however, it’s extremely valuable to begin cultivating compassion for others by talking about feelings and motivations. “Why do you think Sammy took your toy?” “How did you feel when he took it?” “How do you think he felt like when you yelled at him for taking it?” “Have you ever really wanted a toy and found it very hard to share/wait for your turn/wait until it was your birthday to get one of your own?” Kids are often so focused on their own feelings that they kind of forget that others have those feelings too. You’re not judging either child by putting them in the shoes of someone else; you’re simply helping them understand the other person’s perspective. Kids quickly learn that stealing is bad, for example, but I think it’s important to take the time and discuss WHY a person would steal in the first place (with reasons including wanting what someone else has, the person stealing has no money to buy his own possessions or food, he is hungry and desperate, etc).

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5. Model kind behaviors.

Kids watch it all. And when you think they’re not listening, they totally are, so make sure your own actions and behaviors are in line with what you’re preaching. Show kindness to others: not freaking out if someone bumps you in line, or lending someone a quarter to put in the meter or helping out at a bake sale for your child’s school. Also, show kindness towards yourself. I definitely don’t love everything about the way that I look, but I don’t discuss my insecurities in front of my kids and instead focus on the positives because I don’t want them to become overly concerned with outward appearances. Even very young kids are aware of things that they like or don’t like about their bodies (such as their need to wear glasses or their desire to have different hair), so teaching them to show pride in themselves and what they DO like about themselves is an important early lesson in self-love.

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6. Be forgiving and ask to be forgiven.

No one is perfect. It’s been said many a time, yet we still seem to expect perfection of ourselves and our kids. When your child does something wrong, give them a chance to explain why they did it instead of simply handing out a punishment or getting angry. Forgive them without holding a grudge, and they will in turn learn that forgiveness doesn’t mean weakness. And this may seem like a no-brainer, but apologize and ask for forgiveness when you have done something wrong or have taken your bad mood out on them. It’s a humbling experience to realize that you just snapped at your child because you chose the slow line at the supermarket or were on the receiving end of your boss’s tirade and not because of some little thing he or she did. Kids are usually much better at forgiving than adults are. Also, I don’t make my kids say “I’m sorry” automatically when they have done something wrong. Sometimes they aren’t sorry yet! I’d rather them take a few minutes to think over what they said or did than have them issue an apology they don’t even mean.

RELATED | Mindfulness for Parents & Kids: Easy Ways to Appreciate the Moment

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7. Spread kindness around with loving kindness meditation.

We’ve talked about how meditation can help kids relax, sleep better, and even boost their academic performance. Incorporating a loving kindness meditation into their lives can be enormously beneficial (I LOVE doing this on a regular basis myself). A typical meditation goes like this: You start by silently repeating phrases such as “May I be safe, May I be happy, May I live in peace and freedom.” For kids, it may be helpful to say these phrases aloud. Next you think about a person you love and repeat the phrases for them (ie “May Dad be safe… etc). Next focus on someone you don’t have deep ties or feelings to, maybe the school bus driver or the person who sold you tickets at the movie theater. Finally, choose someone who you are having a difficult time getting along with and direct the phrases and well-wishes towards them. It doesn’t always help, but the act of sending good vibes towards others is relaxing and can help soften a bad mood.

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8. Encourage random and non-random acts of kindness as a family.

Let’s be honest. Being kind isn’t always “cool.” Sometimes being mean and making fun of others is a way for older kids to feel accepted and part of a particular group. You can’t control how your child acts all the time at school, but making your home environment as kind as possible is a noble goal. Our family tries to do nice things for other people on a regular basis, whether making hand-crafted get-well or birthday cards or baking or cooking for a family member or neighbor that has had a new baby. It’s developmentally appropriate for kids to be self-centered, but getting them to widen their world view and understand that others have feelings, needs, and wants can be eye-opening.

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9. Practice basic manners.

People can be pretty rude nowadays: we check our phones obsessively during dinner and ignore our dining companions, we take someone else’s taxi even though we know they need to get somewhere too, we tolerate nasty comments between our kids because they “need to work it out themselves.” Practicing basic manners, including saying “please” and “thank you,” gets kids thinking about others. They may be saying these words automatically at first, but at some point they WILL make the connection that everyone on earth wasn’t created just to serve and satisfy them. They’ll also realize that they too like hearing these “magic words.”

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10. Create a kindness necklace or bracelet.

Last year, my mom gave me a bracelet with 100 beads on it. Every time you perform a random act of kindness, you move a marker past one more bead. This is a great way to visualize how you are being kind, and it really gave me an incentive to think up fun random acts of kindness throughout my day. You can easily recreate this idea at home by giving your child a string bracelet and having them add beads as they perform acts of kindness. It’s an inexpensive, motivating way for kids to get excited about being kind.

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