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Kindness can be learned like any other skill. It seems like such a simple quality, but unless we teach children to be kind, it won't become an integral part of their being.
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Fortunately, there are a lot of ways we can help children embrace the concept of being kind to themselves, others, and our planet.
One of the most effective ways is to surround them with books, stories, and activities which promote kindness and empathy.
Listening with My Heart: A story of kindness and self-compassion, by Gabi Garcia
This book is not only about kindness and compassion towards others, but also about showing yourself some compassion when things don’t go as you planned.
Esperanza has some big plans for showing her friends some kindness, but everything ends up as a big disaster! What can she do to fix it?
I recommend reading it together with your child and then talking through some ways they can show kindness towards others and themselves.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A guide to daily happiness for kids, by Carol McCloud
I read this with my preschool aged kids and it has been used in my boys’ kindergarten and first grade classes as well.
The book smoothly introduces the tricky idea that your actions have an effect on how others feel. The story and fun illustrations teaches kids how good it feels when you use kindness and love to “fill the buckets” of others.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt De La Peña
This award winning book follows CJ and his grandmother on a trip on the bus. CJ is very curious and asks a lot of questions. His grandmother’s answers model kindness and empathy toward others and inspire CJ to see the world around him in a more colorful and interesting way.
Horton Hears a Who!, by Dr. Seuss
This was a classic even when I was a child. Horton, a kind elephant, hears the faint cries for help of the Who. He saves the Who and stalwartly defends them while being bullied and mocked.
With its rhythm and rhymes, this book teaches children that being kind is always the right thing to do in a fun and humorous way.
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli
Mr. Hatch is a quiet man who keeps to himself. Imagine his surprise when one day the postman delivers a special box with a gift that has the note, “Somebody loves you!” He shares the gift with those around him.
His actions inspire kindness in others. Then they rally around him, just when he needs it most! It is my friend, Charlie’s, favorite book for teaching her kids the importance of empathy and kindness.
The Kind Unicorn, by Kate and Lindsay Officer
Written by 9-year-old Kate Officer, this story features Olivia, a unicorn who wants to read while all her friends are concerned with their looks.
When the teacher asks, “What is beauty?” and then offers a prize for the best answer all the unicorns answer with different make-up and fashion tips. But Olivia thinks differently. “The way to true beauty is just to be kind,” she tells her friends. Her own kindness and simple words inspire them to go out and do kind things for others.
All profits from the sale of this book go to the Elrick Primary School and their library fund to buy books on kindness.
The Golden Rule, by Ilene Cooper
This story follows a boy and his grandfather and their discussion of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The grandfather talks about the universality of this rule. Everyone from every religion and every region of the world has a version of this rule. This story talks about all of them and how we should apply this rule to our own lives.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
A touching book about a boy and his tree. The tree gives the boy shade and place to play, then, later, it gives him what he needs to succeed in life. Finally, it gives him a place to sit and rest.
This book teaches children to appreciate the kindnesses you are given as well as about generosity and selflessness.
The Elves and the Shoemaker, by Jacob Grimm and Jim LaMarche
One of the original Brothers’ Grimm Tales, this was one of my favorite stories as a child. A poor shoemaker and his wife are down to their last bit of money and he has just enough leather to make one more pair of shoes. He lays out his tools and prepares the leather so he can get an early start in the morning.
When he wakes up he finds, not only is the work done, but the shoes are the most beautiful that he has ever seen! This act of kindness snowballs into success for him and his wife and inspires them to return the kindness in the end. A perfect story for bedtime.
Mouse and Lion, by Rand Burkert and Nancy Ekholm Burkert
Based on Aesop’s famous fable, this story uses beautiful illustrations to help tell the story of the lion that (reluctantly) shows a mouse kindness and how that mouse repays him by coming to his rescue.
This foundational stories is told in such a beautiful way that you will never get tired to reading this book to your children.
The Boy Who Grew Flowers, by Jen Wojtowicz
Rink’s family is …. quirky. They all have a special and very unusual talent. Rink, for example, grows flowers on his body when the moon is full. For these and other reasons, Rink’s family is shunned by the people in town.
Then Angela moves to town and decides to befriend Rink. She sees that what makes him unusual also makes him very special. Their friendship inspires him to use his special talents to kindly help her out.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
A modern classic whose central message of “be kinder than necessary” will melt your heart.
This book follows August, a boy who looks physically different than other children, as he attends, a regular school for the first time. It shares the pain of bullying, the happiness of friendship, and the joy of acceptance for who you are inside. I loved the book as much as my 12 year old and I can’t wait to share it with my 8 year old.
Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome, by Robby Novak and Brad Montague
You’ve probably seen his funny, witty, and inspiring videos on YouTube. Kid President is full of wisdom and a fresh way of looking at some of the more stressful aspects of the world.
This book includes interviews with people he find inspiring (Hello, Michelle Obama!) and ideas for inspiring kindness, joy, and compassion in the world.
The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling spins the epic tale of Harry Potter, a boy wizard, who must overcome incredible odds to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and his quest to take over the world. He does it through friendship, compassion, kindness, determination, and grit.
The power of this story has made it one of the bestselling books of all time. Studies have shown that children who have read this series are more tolerant, compassionate, and empathetic than their peers who had not read these books.
A sequel to her popular book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, this book is for older children and it expands on her original concept. It gives suggestions and asks questions to encourage our tweens and teens to hone and stretch their skills as “bucket fillers.”
It is still an easy read with short chapters and fun illustrations that help to reinforce that showing kindness toward others makes everyone feel good.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary
It’s got action, suspense, a bold mouse, and a fantastic motorcycle. It’s also got kindness, compassion, and empathy. Ralph S. Mouse is desperate to ride Keith’s toy motorcycle. Keith kindly shares it with Ralph.
Little did he know that kindness would spark a heroic act of compassion from Ralph just when Keith needs it most! A fabulous book that will entrance even the most reluctant of readers.
Charlottes’ Web, by E. B. White
A magical classic since it was written 60 years ago, Charlottes’ Web features Wilber the pig as he is adopted by a kind girl named Fern and then befriended by a gentle and wise spider named Charlotte.
The story follows Wilber’s joy with Charlotte’s friendship and into the adventure that succeeds only because of the kindness of all the other farm animals. This is a real joy to read, but have the tissues handy.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Ivan, a gorilla, tells the story of his life at a small zoo in a shopping mall. His world is boring and limited, but he does have two friends named Bob and Stella. We, the readers, see how the kindness from his friends help to make his life bearable.
Then the empathy of a little girl enables him to show the greatest kindness of all to the baby elephant Ruby. This Newberry Medal winner is a must read for adults, too.
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
This book eloquently captures how showing kindness to others can change your life in big ways. A withdrawn and lonely girl, India Opal Buloni is drawn out of her shell by the friendship she finds with the stray dog she names Winn-Dixie.
Through the empathy she shares with her dog she is able to gain friendships, learn about loyalty, and how to find acceptance within herself.
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
We follow the newly orphaned Mary Lenox to her uncle’s house in Yorkshire. Her uncle is a bitter man with a hunch on his back and a lock around his heart.
Naturally curious, Mary follows the mysterious noises that groan through the huge house and follows the birds that fly to hidden places to uncover all the secrets buried under the manor.
Her kindness, compassion, and stubbornness help her to heal the wounds of the past and build a new family and a new future. This book is still fresh even in its 100th year of publication!
This kit is perfect for parents who need a jumping off point for teaching empathy and kindness. It has 4 different projects and comes with the required materials necessary to complete all the projects.
From arts and crafts to imaginative play, these projects will help you to build a solid foundation for developing a larger sense of empathy and compassion for others.
Write a Thank You Note
In my sophomore year of high school, we had an assignment to write a thank you note to a teacher who had been our biggest influence on us. I wrote to my kindergarten teacher, Miss Wollesson. It turns out that thank you note changed her view of what kind of teacher she had been.
And that’s how I learned the true power of the Thank You Note for spreading kindness. So, sit down with your child, get out your good stationary, and ask them to think of a person they want to thank. Or, if they aren’t writing yet, have them draw a thank you picture.
Who Can You Be Kind To Today?
Ask your child, “Who can you be kind to today?” It prompts them to look for ways to be kind, which helps to change the way they view the world.
And it can be the smallest thing! They picked up a friend’s pencil. They said “thank you” to the lunch staff. They let someone else go first in line at the water fountain.
Then, over dinner or during your special time, you can ask them “Who were you kind to today?” You can talk to them about how it made the person feel and then how it made them feel inside when they were kind. Soon they will be looking for ways to be kind everywhere.
If you choose to read the Bucket Filling books we listed above head to the site, Bucketfillers101.com. It has some helpful add-on activities available for children of all ages.
I really liked the Journal Ques page. It is a printable worksheet that gives your child prompts that aid self-analysis when it comes to filling the buckets of others. There is also a helpful A-Z List of things you can do that will fill the bucket of others.
Pay it Forward
You know how occasionally someone has pre-paid for your Starbucks latte? Or maybe you’ve paid the bridge toll for the person behind you? Your child can do this, too!
Give your child permission to pay for someone else’s school lunch. Or you can give them gift cards good for a scoop at the local ice cream shop to secretly give out to their classmates.
These random acts of kindness have a big impact! You can talk to your child about the ripple effect they have seen from this kind of kindness. Be sure to ask them how it made them feel inside, too!
Make a Bird Feeder
There are lots of websites with instructions about making bird feeders. My favorite is this pinecone bird feeder. It couldn’t be easier and it’s a great project to do together.
As you spread the peanut butter (or suet if there is a nut allergy) you can talk about how this really helps the birds, especially during the winter when food is scarce.
Hang it outside the window and watch the birds flock to it! Best of all, you can easily “refill” it any time.
Apps and Games
There really is an app for everything! Sometimes our children have trouble reading the motions of others. They can’t tell if their behavior is being interpreted as kindness and have trouble acting with empathy based on others’ facial expressions.
If your child – from your littlest to your biggest – is having trouble reading body language and facial expressions these are the games for you.
For your 4 year olds there is Avokiddo Emotions. This is an app where your child can take an animal character, dress them up or put them in different situations, and then read the expression on their face. They can even act on those expressions – like giving a zebra a pacifier if it looks sleepy!
For your elementary aged kids there is My DPS. This app teaches kids not only how to read body language and facial expressions, it also helps them to learn the nuances hidden inside conversations. Plus it teaches them strategies to deal with all kinds of situations.
For the preteens and middle schoolers there is Middle School Confidential. This is more graphic novel than game, but it skillfully maps out scripts that will help your child deal with things from minor teasing to major bullies.
This is a fun, action oriented game (credit to Katie Heap of Live, Craft, Eat) designed to get your kids inspired to do for others.
It’s set up as a secret agent, super spy format complete with secret mission instructions and mission ideas.
You can even print out “The Secret Service Was Here” cards so people know they were visited by these little agents of kindness. This is especially fun for younger kids.
Encourage your kids to set up a lemonade stand in their neighborhood. Have them donate all the proceeds to their local animal shelter or food pantry.
This is a fun and easy way to practice many levels of kindness – from having the lemonade out on a hot summer day to donating money to a charity that really needs it. Everyone wins!