Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano of MOTHER
Photographed by Aysia Stieb
One of the silver linings of all of these extra hours under the same roof as your child is the chance to help your kiddo hone in on some of the skills you’d love for them to have for a lifetime. And we’re not talking about math. Instead, we’re referring to raising decent humans who are thoughtful, kind, generous, empathetic, and all of the other good stuff. Luckily, teaching kids these important basics can happen in little moments, day after day, week after week, and add up to big results.
Especially with the negative state of the world right now, focusing on instilling positive, heartfelt skills in kids can feel extra meaningful. Below, we offer some ideas to inspire, as well as some tips from Berkeley, California-based mother Andrea Cheng (pictured here, with Miro, 2), who’s on a mission—like so many of us—to raise a kind and conscious kid.
Read Books About Feelings. To get your kid to be thoughtful, it helps to start with the basics and teach them about feelings. There are so many great children’s books that help put names to common feelings (The Feelings Book, The Way I Feel, these sweet board books by Manhattan Toy, the A Kids Book About series, and on and on!). While reading these books (or watching read-alouds on YouTube), don’t just stick to the words on the page. Get interactive. Ask your child to describe a time when they felt happy, sad, frustrated, scared, excited, etc., and share with them times when you’ve felt the same.
Get Emotional With Your Games. Especially for young children (toddlers on up), finding games that help them tap into their emotions is a great complement to the books they are reading. We especially love this Making Faces Magnetic Set, which was developed alongside a PhD in Developmental Psychology and allows children to recreate eight suggested feelings (calm, worried, sleepy, angry, and so on), as well as make their own creations with magnetic facial pieces. There’s also a matching Making Faces Memory Game, which tuns the classic flip-and-match game into a lesson on emotional expressions.
Read Books About Empathy. Once your child understands that everyone experiences a variety of feelings (and can be triggered by different circumstances), they can more easily empathize with other people and imagine things from another perspective. There are numerous kids’ books out there, featuring a diverse cast of characters, that tackle an array of situations that can help your child build up their empathy muscle (research shows empathy is able to be taught!). If you need book suggestions, take a look at retailers like Bookshop and Amazon‘s list of titles on “emotions and feelings,” Google “social emotional book list,” or you can simply take any children’s book and turn it into a conversation about the character, what they are going through, and what your child would do if they were in the character’s shoes.
Be Kind To Others AND To Mother Earth. It’s not just about teaching kids to be kind to other people (although we have some ace tips for that here!). Just as important is raising children who behave lovingly towards our planet. Teach your kids about energy conservation. About avoiding food waste. And about conscious consumption—buying fewer, but higher quality things, and passing them down once you’re done with them. The latter point is one Andrea thinks about often. “We try not to impulsively buy anything since the act of researching the thing is half the fun of shopping—is it well made, what’s the story behind the brand, does it encourage open-ended play, is Miro naturally drawn to it, is it something he can find new ways to play with as he gets older? With the items that Miro’s outgrown, I’ve been setting them aside to pass onto new parent friends, donate to his school/toy drives, or leave on our curb to cycle into our neighborhood.” For more ideas on how to teach your kids to live green, check out our past articles here and here.
Get In The Giving Mood. Starting at a young age, children can get into the giving spirit by picking out thoughtful gifts for others (including toys for toy drives), baking treats to give to neighbors, and selecting toys from their own collection that they are ready to pass down to a friend or donate to a charity. Older kids who are starting to earn money can also get into the habit of dividing their funds into “save,” “spend,” and “give” jars. And for the toddler set, Andrea shares her own method for starting to get little Miro into the giving mood: “I try to proactively seek out little moments in the day where we can think about others—whether it’s prompting to share bites of our meal with each other, asking him what Daddy, Ah-Ma, Ah-Gong (his grandparents), or Marty (our dog) would like when picking things up from the store or role playing with his toys,” she says. “At this age, something I’m trying to instill in him is the idea that if you find something you like, maybe others would like it, too.”
Practice Gratitude. Especially during the year we’ve all endured (and continue to endure), focusing on what we’re thankful for is key. From keeping a gratitude journal and writing appreciation notes to making thankfulness a part of your family culture, we’ve got 10 bits of advice for raising grateful kids right here.
Be A Strong Role Model. Your kid seeing you practice respect for others and the earth and being thoughtful in all of the ways is the goal. But let’s be real—the pandemic doesn’t always bring out the best parent in all of us, all of the time. Just remind yourself that your kids are watching, and in those moments of stress-induced blunders (because there will be many), it’s important to take some time to apologize to your kid if needed, and give them more context as to why you weren’t the person you wanted to be in that moment. And then, as they see you dust yourself off and try again, they’ll receive that life lesson, too.