Ways to Teach Your Kids Kindness

How You Can Teach Kids to Be Kind to Others (and Why You Should)

Boys sharing headphones and cell phone on sofa
Getty Images/JGI/Jamie Grill

“Can you believe what she’s wearing?” “Don’t you think he’s fat?” “Why would anyone want to be friends with her?” “He’s ugly.”

Comments like these—or worse—are not uncommon among children, or even with adults. We now live in an age where photos and posts online can garner nearly instant and anonymous comments from total strangers and acquaintances alike. These reactions can be rude, hurtful, and even malicious. It is more important than ever that parents teach children to be kind to others.

Why We Need More Kindness

Today, judging others seems to be an activity practiced by far too many people. It’s all too easy to post comments about other people, whether they’re celebrities or ordinary, everyday citizens. Unkindness isn't new; humans have been cruel to each other for thousands of years. But today the ease, speed, and anonymity with which people can pass judgments and criticism onto others is unprecedented. Kids who are at the forefront of tech and social networking are learning from what they see around them.

Children also tend not to be able to see the bigger picture. Because young children usually focus on what's right in front of them and tend to not think too far ahead, they may not realize the full effects of what behaviors like meanness, exclusion, or bullying can have on other kids. And kids are naturally self-centered, which means that they aren’t always able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or make a conscious effort to think about how someone else might feel. That does not mean, however, that kids are naturally unkind.

Kids are hard-wired to have empathy for others and want to help. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can take advantage of these natural instincts that we're all born with and encourage kids to practice kindness in their everyday lives.​

Ways Parents Can Encourage Kindness in Kids

To nurture kindness in kids, try incorporating some of these practices into your daily routines.

1. Do Unto Others

Young children need reminders about trying to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Ask your child to try to remember to think before saying something about someone and to take the time to consider how they might feel if someone said it to them. How would they feel if they found out that someone was making fun of their dress or criticizing them for not doing a math problem fast enough? Would they want someone to praise them for trying or to put them down for not doing something right? Would they want someone to compliment them on something they do well or would they want someone to make fun of them? Teaching empathy is a key part of teaching kids kindness.

2. If You Cannot Say Something Nice…

The adage about saying nothing at all if you don’t have something nice to say about someone is a good lesson in kindness to teach kids. Teach your child to get into the habit of saying only positive things—the sort of things that will make someone feel good rather than sad. Teach them to hold their tongue when they have a negative opinion about something. For example, if their friend asks them whether they like a drawing they did and they didn’t like it, they can practice finding something positive about it. “I liked the colors you used,” or “You made a nice, big house” or something similar is great. They should not mention what they did not like about it. Another example: If a classmate isn't very good at sports, your child can offer encouragement and praise the classmate for trying.

3. Kind Words and Smiles

It’s also a good idea to get kids into the habit of being friendly and finding something nice to say to someone. (That said, a child should know the basics of how to protect themself from stranger and acquaintance danger and should know what to do if they ever get lost.) Let your child see you tell the checkout person at the supermarket to have a nice day, thank a waiter for serving you, or compliment a neighbor on the hard work they did in their garden.

Be a good role model and try to be nice to people you interact with throughout the day. Be the behavior you want to see in your child.

4. Thank You, Please, and More

Teaching good manners, such as being respectful to others, greeting people properly, and speaking to people in a polite way, is also an important part of raising a kind child. And since you live with your children, you’ll reap the benefits of having pleasant and nice individuals growing up in your home.

5. Guard Against Spoiling

Kind children are also children who are charitable, who know that their parents cannot buy everything they want for them (and understand why they should not get everything they want), and are patient, thankful, and have self-control. If you want to teach kids kindness, make sure you don't spoil your kids.

6. Bullying and Cyberbullying

Be very aware of the dangers of cyberbullying, both by being vigilant about what your child sees and reads online as well as by keeping close tabs on what they are writing and sharing. Learn about bullying and what to do to prevent and stop bullying.

7. Be Nice to Your Child

Even when you’re tired and frustrated—specially when you’re tired and frustrated—try to speak in a kind way to your child. Discipline with love, support them when they are down, and as always, be kind.

8. Kindness Is Contagious

Similarly, kids who may not naturally be inclined to bullying others or being mean may join in when others are doing it. If your child can set an example of kindness, it too may spread to their social group.

9. Being Kind Makes Kids Feel Good

When you encourage kindness in your child, they will feel better not only about the world they live in but also about themself. That’s the thing about raising a good child who is kind: not only will kindness lift up your child and the others around them, it will help them grow to be a happy and loving person.

12 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Geiger AM, Sabik NJ, Lupis SB, Rene KM, Wolf JM. Perceived appearance judgments moderate the biological stress effects of social exchanges. Biol Psychol. 2014;103:297-304. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.10.005

  2. Illing S. Vox. Why humans are cruel.

  3. Alhajji M, Bass S, Dai T. Cyberbullying, Mental Health, and Violence in Adolescents and Associations With Sex and Race: Data From the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Glob Pediatr Health. doi:10.1177/2333794X19868887

  4. Brummelman E, Thomaes S, Nelemans SA, Orobio de castro B, Overbeek G, Bushman BJ. Origins of narcissism in children. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2015;112(12):3659-62. doi:10.1073/pnas.1420870112

  5. Riess H. The Science of Empathy. J Patient Exp. 2017;4(2):74-77. doi:10.1177/2374373517699267

  6. Reid C, Davis H, Horlin C, Anderson M, Baughman N, Campbell C. The Kids' Empathic Development Scale (KEDS): a multi-dimensional measure of empathy in primary school-aged children. Br J Dev Psychol. 2013;31(Pt 2):231-56. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12002

  7. Murphy J, Zlomke K. Positive Peer Reporting in the Classroom: a Review of Intervention Procedures. Behav Anal Pract. 2014;7(2):126-37. doi:10.1007/s40617-014-0025-0

  8. Rowland L, Curry OS. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. J Soc Psychol. 2019;159(3):340-343. doi:10.1080/00224545.2018.1469461

  9. Schipani D. Parents. Un-spoil Your Kid.

  10. StopBullying. How to Prevent Bullying.

  11. Sege RD, Siegel BS. Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children. Pediatrics. 2018;142(6). doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3112

  12. Zaki J. Scientific American. Kindness Contagion.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.