Encouraging Kindness in Kids

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
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Time Required

The time required for any of these techniques will vary. Try to use one of them at least once per week.

How to Do It

  1. Avoid using external rewards to reinforce altruistic behavior. For instance, you may want to think twice before telling kids that they’ll get a special treat if they share their toys, or promising them extra TV time if they help clean up after dinner. As tempting as it may be to reward kids when they do something kind, that approach can backfire: They may learn that kindness is only worth performing when they’ll be given some kind of prize as a result. Instead, kids should get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward—a view backed up by neuroscience studies showing that pleasure centers of the brain light up when people behave altruistically.
  2. Praise character, not behavior. Research suggests that children are more likely to make kindness a habit if they are praised for being kind people rather than just for doing something kind. For example, saying, “You’re such a helpful person” may be more effective than saying, “That was such a helpful thing to do.” Praising their character encourages children to see kindness as an essential part of who they are and seems to be especially effective around age eight, when children are forming their moral identities.
  3. But criticize behavior, not character. In other words, it’s OK to induce guilt but not shame. Children who feel guilt (“I did a bad thing”) after wrongdoing are more likely to feel remorse and make amends than those who feel shame (“I am a bad person”). Criticizing a behavior conveys that it’s possible for the child to change his or her behavior and make better choices in the future. Such criticism may be especially effective when it also includes positive affirmation (e.g., “You’re a good person, and I know you can do better.”)
  4. Model altruistic behavior. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words when it comes to cultivating altruism. Research shows that when children witness adults behaving altruistically, they are more likely to behave altruistically themselves, regardless of what the adults say to them about the importance of altruism.
Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
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Why You Should Try It

Research suggests that children have a strong, perhaps innate, propensity for kind or altruistic behavior, which involves acting to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a cost to oneself. However, research also suggests that there are particular ways kids can be encouraged—or discouraged—from acting on this propensity. 

In particular, their penchant for kindness can be influenced by how adults praise or criticize them. Sometimes, even subtle actions and word choices by parents, teachers, and other adults can make a big difference. This practice offers specific techniques that can help nudge kids toward kindness and generosity, behaviors that are not only good for the people they help but for their own well-being, too: Studies have found that altruistic people tend to have better social relationships and experience greater happiness. 

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
(2 member ratings)

Evidence That It Works

Warneken, F. & Tomasello, M., (2008). Extrinsic rewards undermine altruistic tendencies in 20-month olds. Developmental Psychology, 44(6), 1785-1788.

Toddlers who received a material reward for helping someone in need were subsequently less likely to help again later, compared with those who had previously received only verbal praise or no reward at all. This has been demonstrated in a range of age groups.

Grusec, J. E & Redler, E. (1980). Attribution, reinforcement, and altruism: A developmental analysis. Developmental Psychology, 16(5), 525–534.

Eight-year old children who were told that they were helpful people for performing an altruistic act (donating some of their marbles to poor children) subsequently engaged in more altruistic behavior (e.g., sharing pencils or donating drawings to sick children) than did children whose behavior alone was praised or were told nothing at all. Ten-year old children, however, benefitted from praise directed at either their character or their behavior.

Barrett, K.C., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Cole, P.M. (1993). Avoiders versus Amenders: Implications for the investigation of guilt and shame during toddlerhood? Cognition and Emotion, 7(6), 481-505.

Researchers looked at how the reactions of guilt-prone toddlers differed from those of shame-prone toddlers when they accidentally broke a doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to confess to breaking the doll, more likely to try to fix it, and less likely to avoid the doll’s owner—suggesting that inducing guilt in kids is more effective than inducing shame when they misbehave.

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
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Why It Works

These strategies for fostering altruism are effective because they build on children’s deep-rooted inclinations for kindness. Using external rewards can undermine kids’ natural tendency to reap the intrinsic rewards of doing kind things for others. Praising children in ways that emphasize their altruistic character can make them more likely to see themselves as good, helpful people, and this positive identity can, in turn, make them more likely to behave altruistically in the future. On the flip side, when kids misbehave, inducing guilt rather than shame is effective because it suggests that they’re not fundamentally bad people, they just made a poor choice but are capable of making better choices in the future.  

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
(2 member ratings)

Sources

Many of these strategies draw from ideas and research cited by Adam Grant, Ph.D., a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in his New York Times article, “Raising a Moral Child.”

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
(2 member ratings)

For More

Difficulty: Casual | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: Variable
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Do you model altruistic behavior for your kids? Take the Altruism quiz to find out: 

Completion Status

Comments & Reviews

  1. Paris Tyne
    Paris Tyne
    December 2, 2017

    *I knew I was a bad wife and mother for invariably pushing my husband to the point of hating me or seeing me with the kids. But I never let my bad attitude towards him let me feel like I am the worst woman out there. So, I fought inside of me to change the bad attitude and win back my husband’s heart for over six years but could not until he threatened me with a divorce and a restraining order, not only to keep me away from him, but away from our kids. *Because I can’t stand losing them, I threw away my pride and went spiritual on myself with the aid of doctor wakina (dr.wakinalovetemple@gmail.com), I was brought to light and made to understand that “it is of a great significant to make my husband happy and I must start by making myself happy”. *I boldly acknowledge the spiritual power doctor wakina carries that cured me from myself for four days and overturned my husband’s decisions. For over four months I have been having an entertaining moment with myself and family, a lot of things has changed both physical and spiritual. I say thank you Dr. Wakina for saving me from myself and restoring my marriage. *Love… Paris Tyne

  2. EmilyMorrison
    EmilyMorrison
    October 21, 2017

    Well! This is really a nice and satisfying post. Pieces of Advice and tips mentioned here are well-suitable and helpful. These ways are very much generous and useful in increasing the kindness among the children and kids. People should always try to encourage our kids to show kindness and respect towards everyone. They should not be scolded to do so, rather they should be guided properly and accordingly. Parents should not try to give the reward to their kids for doing any kind of work for them. Kids should be praised all the time for their behavior. All these various points can be really helpful. Parents can also conduct a psychic session to invoke kindness among their children. These psychics can possess extremely genuine ways in order to generate kindness among the kids. Parents can get more information about the psychics at http://www.martine-voyance.com/consultation/ with various services as well.

  3. Steve Martinez
    Steve Martinez
    July 5, 2017

    Love these.

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