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When our kids become successful at something, we want to help them share that feeling by encouraging them to use their new skills to help others by teaching or supporting them.
Helping others, even with simple encouragement, builds community and relationships. It strengthens our bonds with people and can bring joy, which stems from knowing someone else is improving because of us.
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According to psychologist Dr. Dale Adkins, we can develop our children’s desire to be compassionate by noticing when they are. It’s also important we treat our children with the kindness and compassion we want to see from them.
She says, “Kind kids are interested in other people, they’re accepting, they’re not so judgmental. They’re willing to listen, they’re empathetic.”
How do we help our children understand that by helping others, we help ourselves? We guide them to noticing the joy they receive from knowing someone is better off because of them.
Help others toward their goal
Children can learn they can help others by being a support system. Listening to others work through the problem and supporting their struggle can be huge. Your child can offer suggestions or observations without doing the work for them. It gives the other child reinforcement that they are not alone and can do things independently.
You can model this behavior by not stepping in the next time your child is struggling. Say, “I see you’re working on a new puzzle. Maybe sorting the pieces by color could be helpful.”
Your child doesn’t need to be the expert to be supportive. Simply keeping someone company as they try a new task can help. Your child’s kind presence may be all the other child needs to have the patience to keep trying.
The next time your child is having a tough time with something, try moving closer. Say, “It looks like the math homework is tougher for you today. Can I sit here and keep you company while you work through it?”
Children also can do this by being encouraging. They can let the other child know they think they can do it. By letting someone know we believe they can do it, no matter how small the goal may seem, it can shift the mindset and help the other person see the possibilities, not the limitations. We can model this for our kids by noticing when it happens. We can say, “I saw you encouraging your little brother to zip his own jacket! It’s awesome that you are there for him!”
Be sure to check out the Kindness & Community PDF Kit because, like academic skills, kindness and empathy can be taught and cultivated through modeling and practice.
With these engaging activities, you can promote kindness and empathy development, and enhance children's capacity to care about others.
Teach something they know
You know how excited kids get when they learn something new? You can encourage them to use that energy to teach someone else.
Help your child notice opportunities to share their knowledge and watch their confidence and compassion soar. According to Cheri Sterman, the director of education at Crayola, when students are the teachers, they develop “deeper understanding and leadership-skill building.”
One way your child can teach is through modeling. They can demonstrate how to do the math problem, tie a shoe, or read the instructions for a younger sibling or a friend.
You can say, “You’ve been able to fit the blocks in the box before. Can you show your little sister how you did it?”
Children can also explain how to do things to help someone else learn. When children explain a process to someone else, it helps them recognize what they did to accomplish their learning. There’s an added benefit to it, too. When kids practice modeling, they reinforce their understanding and learn how to break things down into steps, which works for their own goals.
Cheer on your child when they are learning a new process. You can say, “You got the first two steps! Now watch again while I show you step 3 of building the model.”
Our popular Confidence of a Lion poster is a motivational tool for building self-esteem. It helps kids recognize their strengths and encourages positive self-talk.
Another powerful way to help your child learn they can support others is to let them teach you. Encourage your child to teach you how to play a game, understand a story, or explain the route to get someplace. When they are in the teacher’s seat, it lets them see that learning is lifelong, and that age isn’t always the indicator of knowledge.
You can say, “I saw you doing the new dance yesterday. Can you teach me how to do it?”
Be there when it gets tough
Learning paths are rarely straight. Frustration and disappointment are part of the process, but that doesn’t mean it feels good.
When children support other people, it underlines their knowledge that struggling isn’t personal. It’s part of the growth. It’s not about fixing it — it’s about letting someone know they aren’t alone and that their feelings aren’t too big or unnatural.
Your child has first-hand knowledge of how not being able to do something feels. Encourage them to use their empathy and compassion to support others when they are struggling.
You can say, “It looks like Emily is having a hard time right now. What do you like to hear when you’re struggling?”
“To create supportive learners, you need to send the message, implicitly and explicitly, that ‘we are in this together,’” Claxton says.
When a friend doesn’t make the team, can’t get the notes correct, or misses moving to the next reading level by a few points, it’s an opportunity for your child to help by supporting.
We can model this as parents by recognizing our child’s efforts, praising the work — not the accomplishment — and helping our child learn to sit with their emotions. You can say, “Learning to do a cartwheel is hard for you, and you’ve been trying for a while. I see you’re frustrated and upset. I am here with you.”
The benefits of helping others are profound. It renews our child’s faith in the process of learning, underlines their understanding of what they know, and builds their emotional toolbox. When our kids learn to move through setbacks and keep working toward a goal, it develops their growth mindset. They become more adept at handling failure, which sets them up for greater personal growth and success.
About the Author:
Julianna Cario is a mom to four boys, wife, and pet-mom to a dog and cat. She lives in the Pittsburgh, PA area and certainly has her fair share of black and gold apparel. A bread-maker and smeller-of-old-books, Julianna can be found barefoot outdoors as much as possible. Julianna has been teaching Secondary English for 11 years and thinks helping children of all ages understand that failure is a key part of future success is one of the most important things to teach. She also thinks the most important question you can ask after reading a book is, "So, what did you think?"