How Do We Teach Our Children to Be Kind?

03/26/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2015

Every time I pick a paper or magazine to read lately, I seem to find someone who appears to want to tell us about the issue of raising kind children. As much as I believe in teaching values such as kindness to our children, there are a few points that I feel are important to add to this ongoing debate.

Young children live in a very self-involved world. They are the center of that world until about the age of 7, when they begin to observe the world as a bigger place. That is why it is important for good modeling to take place so that they can relate to what that word "kindness" really means. One way that I have seen is the save, spend and give approach to children having money. They need to see where the money goes when it is given. If you tell them that it is going to people who are less fortunate than they are, they need to see a homeless shelter, or visit a senior home, or do some research on what "less fortunate" might look like. If siblings are fighting over a toy, it is instinctive to a parent to explain that taking turns is important, and that kind feelings do not happen when fighting takes place. We are so quick as parents to want to make our children function kindly in the world, that we often forget that their frame of reference is limited by their age and experience.

One of the most impressive things I ever read was about a soldier who had passed away in a war. When his family went through his belongings, they were surprised to find a very crumpled piece of paper hidden away in his wallet. It was a paper from a class in school that was entitled "Three Things I Like About You." There was a list of qualities that some classmates composed many years before in his class. The soldier carried it with him in battle because it made him feel so good. One of those qualities listed was about him being kind!

Being the teacher of 7 and 8-year-old children in second grade, I wondered how I could implement such a wonderful gift as this in my class. I hoped the children would be able to create a list of the qualities they liked in their friends as a class. I was delighted that words like honest, reliable and kind became a part of the list on the board. I kept the list on the board for about two weeks in case anyone wanted to add to it. It became a natural springboard for the beginning of the school year for discussions on how the children wanted their classroom of friends to see them, and how they might make this happen. The discussions varied from the ideas of following classroom rules all the way to how to show kindness towards each other. Naturally, some of the children were more interested than others, but when I asked each child to draw a name out of a basket of one of their classmates, the interest level soared. Under each name was three numbered lines, and the children were asked to write three things that they liked about that person. I must admit I was thrilled with the responses of these very young children. I created a bulletin board with the words "What I Like About..." I posted a photo of each child's face, and under each face was the writing of a classmate who found three things that he or she valued in that person. That bulletin board remained there for the entire school year. At the end of the year the children were allowed to take their picture home along with the list of words written about them. Many of the children who are now adults have reminded me of these lists when reminiscing with me about their elementary school experiences. It took such little effort on my part to show them how much value they had! Believe me when I tell you that I learned a lot about myself during the process!