‘Tis the season for social media posts about gratitude and random acts of kindness. In some ways, I love these posts. It’s nice to see people slowing down and appreciating the little (and not so little) things in life. And kindness is always a good thing. If you have the opportunity to make someone smile, you should definitely take it.
I do worry, however, about the messages we send our kids when we push gratitude and kindness for about six weeks a year and then go back to business as usual. The truth is, gratitude is best taught throughout the year. Kids should learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in winter, spring (smell the roses, perhaps?) and summer as well.
As for those random acts of kindness, well, I think we need to rethink that one. Yes, it’s lovely to hand out free coffees once in a while—but it’s better to engage in deliberate acts of kindness every day. Kindness is a choice we make, and kids should learn from a young age that by putting kindness into the world, they have the power to make the world a better place.
You don’t have to hand out gift cards to strangers to practice kindness. Big gestures are nice, but often the small gestures hold more meaning. For kids to truly grasp the power of kindness, it helps if they see the direct impact their acts of kindness generate.
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With that in mind, encourage your little ones to practice these small (deliberate) acts of kindness throughout the year:
1. Include someone at lunch
Inviting someone new to the lunch table can make that other person’s day. I can’t tell you how many kids sit on my couch and tell me that lunch is their least favorite part of the school day, because they worry about finding a welcoming table. Teach your child to invite one new person each and watch kindness spread through the lunchroom.
2. Write a handwritten letter to a grandparent
It’s no big secret that kids love to get mail. You know who else loves mail? Grandparents! Even if they live around the corner, a handwritten note to say, “I’m thinking of you,” always makes grandparents feel appreciated.
3. Help a neighbor with groceries
Have you ever noticed that if you offer to help someone carry groceries they usually wave you off, but if you just get in there and help they appreciate the extra hand? Kids love to help others, and they are capable of lending a hand to a neighbor. Encourage your kids to get in there and carry a bag or two to lighten someone else’s load.
4. Hold the door
With so many people looking down as they hurry from place to place, taking the time to hold a door for someone else doesn’t happen as much as it once did. Teach your children to hold the door for others when coming and going. This small act of kindness keeps us connected and encourages people to communicate face-to-face.
5. Let someone skip ahead in line
Kids can get very competitive about lining up. I see this in classrooms and on teams. Teach your kids to offer up a space in line to a pal. I do this with my kids at the grocery store fairly regularly, especially if I have more in my cart than someone behind me. Letting someone else go ahead shows that we’re all in it together and that we think of others.
When kids cheer each other on, they strengthen their friendships.
6. Read to someone
A great way to help kids connect with others is to encourage them to read out loud. Reading brings people together. Whether your child reads to a younger sibling or shares a favorite book with an aunt or uncle, reading to someone else shows that person that you want to connect and share your world.
7. Bake something for a friend
Kids love to make treats for friends, and baking something yummy is a great way to show kindness. Fire up the oven and bake those chocolate chip muffins!
8. Write the teacher a thank-you note
Teachers are overwhelmed with gifts and notes during Teacher Appreciation Week, but pictures or short notes throughout the year show your child’s teacher that he or she is always appreciated. Encourage this small act of kindness often and help your child connect with his teacher.
9. Cheer for a friend
Sometimes kids get so wrapped up in their own sports and activities that they forget to consider what their friends are up to. Take your child to cheer on a friend at a game or event and encourage your little one to give lots of high-fives and accolades. When kids cheer each other on, they strengthen their friendships.
10. Give a compliment
Sometimes a compliment at the right moment can really brighten someone’s day. Talk to your kids about compliments that uplift others (e.g., "I really liked that story you shared in class today") and encourage them to use compliments often.
When kids see that acts of kindness are uplifting for others, they are more likely to engage in kind acts regularly. Skip the random acts this year and focus on daily acts of kindness throughout the year.