Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Nice… Or Kind?

The folks at Sesame Street have been concerned lately about the younger generation’s lack of kindness. A statement from the Sesame Workshop noted that there has been an increase in “anger, fear, bullying, and violence” and that “narcissism is on the rise, empathy is down, and… students think their parents prioritize grades over being kind to others.” They recently surveyed hundreds of teachers and parents about how well children today are being taught kindness.  Here are some of the more notable results:

  • Parents (70%) and teachers (86%) agreed that their children are growing up in an unkind world. Parents (73%) and teachers (78%) agreed that kindness is more important for the future than academic success.
  • Less than a majority of teachers believe parents are teaching their kids to be respectful (44%) and empathetic (34%).
  • A majority of teachers (73%) believe all or most of their class is kind, and a majority of parents (88%) believe their children are kind.
  • A majority of parents did not report that their children were very thoughtful (46%) or very helpful (40%).

I’m sensing the Lake Woebegone effect – our kids are much better than the average, but everyone else needs to do a better job of teaching kids kindness. Perhaps these results indicate that we need to do better at defining kindness. Do manners and being “nice” equate to kindness? We have all met kids who show manners when they are around adults but say and do unkind things around other children. A lack of empathy can be a big contributor, as well as a narcissistic mentality. If children never feel the pain of others and never make sacrifices for others, then they will never become kind people. Being kind and teaching kindness goes beyond being “nice.” Manners are important, but kindness goes deeper than acting nice and wearing a façade in front of the right people.

Teaching kindness involves habit building. Empathy, thoughtfulness, and service cannot become a child’s way of life without years of practice. To accomplish this kindness training, consider two essential elements. First, teach in context of real life. Don’t pass opportunities to teach in the moment. When you see children behave unkindly, don’t be tempted to look the other way simply because intervening is inconvenient. Point out unkind behavior and require children to change their actions. Likewise, praise kindness when you observe it. When you see others act selflessly, make sure your kids witness it and hear you endorse that kind of behavior.

Second, build habits of kindness with everyday tasks. Involving your kids in church ministries and community service projects has its benefits, but it’s unlikely to teach them to be kind in their everyday life. Children need to learn to be kind and helpful in little tasks. They need to help around the house, hold the door for others, allow their friends to go first, and hold their tongue when aggravated. Showing “kindly affection” and “preferring one another” (Romans 12:1) begins with life’s daily routine.

We all wish the world was a kinder place for our children to live, but we have little control of the entire world. What we can influence is the impact our children will make in the world. Let’s make it a daily priority to teach them to be kind.