Inside: You want your kids to grow up to be nice people. But how do you take a kid who tantrums every 7 seconds and turn them into a kind, caring adult? Here’s how.
You want your child to grow up to be a kind, compassionate person.
At least I don’t think anyone sets out to raise a meanie.
You have this mental picture of your child as an adult – thoughtful, generous, and loved by their friends and family.
But then you look at the child in front of you.
Maybe you have a toddler throwing the tantrum to end all temper tantrums over the fact that you won’t let them stick a phone charger in the light socket. Or a grade-schooler who loses at Monopoly and flips the board over then storms off. Or a tween who rolls their eyes at 97.3 percent of what you say.
It’s not exactly clear how you’re supposed to help your child get from point A to point B.
You’re lucky if you can get them to eat broccoli, let alone grow into a mature adult who writes prompt thank-you notes and volunteers regularly just because and remembers to call their mother more than once a year.
That’s why when I came across advice from Harvard researchers on how to raise kind and caring kids, I got a little excited.
Practical, straightforward, research-backed tips on how to teach your child to be kind? YES, PLEASE.
Bonus: Download these free conversation starters that will help raise your kids to be kind.
A Fateful Night in College
One nugget of advice in particular stood out to me: “Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.”
When I first read that, a memory from my college years flashed through my mind. A bunch of my friends and I sat around one night playing a board game called Scruples.
Here’s how it works: On your turn, you are presented with a moral dilemma, then you explain how you would handle it.
If your friends disagree and think your answer doesn’t align with your personality, they can give their argument. If the general consensus is that you’re wrong and they’re right, you lose.
Kelly, suppose you are walking along the street and a person in front of you drops a $100 bill. Do you catch up to them and return it? Or do you keep it?
Me: Well, obviously I’d catch up and return it!
Friend #1: That’s a crock. You’re a greedy little sneak.
Friend #2: You still owe me $10 that you “borrowed” last year.
Friend #3: I trust you about as far as I can throw you.
Friend #1: Let’s take a vote. Who agrees that Kelly is a lying cheat? Everyone? Okay, Kelly, you lose!
What Would You Do?
At first, I was a little gun-shy of recreating that night in present day with my kids.
But after I let go of my past trauma, I had to admit it’s a pretty good idea.
But I’d rather save my $25 for a gallon-sized Pumpkin Spice Latte. Plus, the questions in those sets tend to be things like “What’s your favorite thing to do at recess?” – which is cute and all but doesn’t exactly fulfill the advice from the experts to give your child an ethical dilemma to puzzle over.
So I made a free printable set of 40 special conversation starters for you to use with your family.
40 Questions That Will Teach Your Kid to Be Kind to Others
Download and print these “What Would You Do?” cards and then at dinner or on road trips, pick a card and ask your kids how they’d handle a situation. You might be surprised by their answers. (Scroll to the end of this post for the link to download.)
A few recommendations to keep the experience from devolving into a bad Scruples game so the conversations stay fun and meaningful:
- First, just listen. Resist the urge to give the “right” answer. Your kid will learn better if you foster a good conversation and help them work through the issue on their own. Literally bite your tongue if you have to!
- If your kid is stumped, reiterate that there’s no right or wrong answer. You just want to hear their ideas. If they still have nothing, try throwing out silly answers to get a reaction out of them.
- If your kid’s answer shocks you, say “Hmm” or “Interesting” – something noncommittal to give you time to collect yourself. If you freak out on your kid, they’ll clam up. These conversations should be fun and stimulating, not stressful.
- Feel free to embellish the questions to paint a clearer picture for your child. For example, instead of just saying “A new kid joins your class at school.” you could say “A new kid joins your class at school. They speak a different language and wear different-looking clothes than what the rest of your friends wear.”
- Ask clarifying questions to get your child talking. For example: “What made you think of that?” Or “Have you ever noticed this happen?”
- If your child’s first answer isn’t as kind as you would hope, gently guide them toward considering another answer. Try: “What’s another way you could respond?” Or “How would you feel if you were the other person?”
How to Be Kind – According to a 6-Year-Old
The first time we tried a few of these conversation starters at the dinner table?
Best conversations ever.
If our 6-year-old struggled to come up with a response to one of the sticky situations, we’d throw out silly answers – and that got her thinking and talking.
For example, we asked this one:
“You’re at a friend’s house for a sleepover. Your friend’s parents made dinner, so you all sit down to eat. But after the first bite, you realize you don’t like the food at all. What would you do?”
My daughter tilted her head to one side. “I’m not sure.”
My husband Ty raised his hand. “Ooh! I know, I know!”
“Okay, what would you say?” I asked Ty.
“I’d say, ‘YUCK!’ And then I’d turn the plate upside down and pout and run away from the table.”
She giggled. “You can’t do that!”
“Because,” she said. “The people who made it would feel bad. They worked hard on it.”
But my favorite conversation so far was after I asked this question:
“What does it mean to be kind?”
She rattled off examples:
“Say ‘good morning.’ Ask before you take something. Give massages. When your baby sister tears apart the puzzle you’re working on, don’t get angry. Clean the cats’ litter boxes. Have dance parties. Sleep.”
Now, if only her baby sister could learn that last one.
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the cards. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. I designed them to print on Avery business cards for inkjet or laser printers. Or you can just print them on regular paper or card stock. (If you go the business card route and the lines don’t PERFECTLY line up, please don’t sue me. That would be unkind.)
- Cut. Or if you’re like me and you can’t cut a straight line to save your life, fold and tear to get a charmingly casual look.
- Pop the cards into an empty bowl or mason jar, put it on your dining room table, and you’re DONE.
Social media feature photo by Caitlin Regan.
Download my FREE cheat sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
If you like this post, you’ll probably like this, too: 3 Simple Steps for Teaching Empathy in the Most Authentic Way.
What’s something kind your kid has done? Share your story in a comment below!
I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.