How to Raise Kind Children | A Cup of Jo

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)...

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.

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