This story was originally published on June 28, 2017. It has been updated.
We all want the best for our children. I think that's something all parents can agree on no matter who you are or what your life looks like. It's something that unifies us as parents.
Setting our kiddos up for "the best" in life largely depends on their foundation. What kind of people are we helping to shape now? Hopefully caring, empathetic, kind human beings. Because that's what the world truly needs.
So how do we do that? How do we help our children grow up to be the kind generation of the future? We asked the best child development experts around to share their 10 essential tips.
Here's what they had to say:
1. Lead by example
Be kind to others. Treat one another with respect. Embody strong morals and values. Stand up for what’s right. Celebrate differences in people. Be an example of a good friend. Recognize when someone else is being kind and talk about it—explain why their act of kindness mattered. You are your child’s greatest teacher, and actions speak louder than words.
Rebecca Eanes, creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond says, “How do you treat the bank teller, the store clerk, the telemarketer? What about your parents and your in-laws? They are watching your example. Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”
2. Teach them generosity
Give back, volunteer, get involved in something bigger than your day-to-day lives.
Rebecca Eanes asks, “Are you involved in your community? There are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering, supporting a local cause, attending church, or donating items. Seeing a bigger picture, how their acts can influence many lives, will give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values.
So make service routine. Teach them to serve others through volunteering, donating items, taking food to the homeless and random acts of kindness. Entitlement doesn’t take up the space of a compassionate, giving, and serving heart.”
3. Act with love
Show them compassion. Be gentle when others make mistakes. Practice forgiveness.
Child Development Psychologist and author of How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success, Dr. Tovah Klein explains, “Every time you respond to your child’s needs with love, your child learns that someone is always there to take care of them even when they are having a hard time. They learn to trust others and that they are not alone.
Through these warm interactions your child develops a sense of herself as a person who deserves to be loved and cared for and has a role model (you!) for how to care about other people. Isn’t that what we all want? A child who feels confident about who she is and shows kindness towards others. The base is in their loving relationship with you.”
4. Practice self-love
Teach them how to love themselves by showing them that you love who you are. And by that I mean—do what you need to do to be a happy parent.
Dr. Tovah Klein says, “Before you can start to address the many changing needs of your child, you have to take care of you. When you are rested, eating reasonably healthy meals, finding ways to grab a little time for yourself, or a date night with your partner, then you are better able to give your child what he needs. Plus, you deserve it. Taking care of yourself means a better relationship with your child and a happier you!”
5. Be specific about praise
Child Development Psychologist Ashley Soderlund says, “When praise is sincere, don’t hold back, sincere and genuine praise has been shown to increase children’s motivation.
For example, if you are genuinely impressed that your child did something, then tell them, but be specific: “I am so happy you shared your toys with that little girl. Wasn’t it nice to play with her?” “When you share toys it can be fun.” “I am so glad you peed in the potty!” “Do you feel happy and proud? Let’s do a happy dance!”
In the end, as a parent you want to enjoy and share in your child’s successes and that is what we should do! But instead of focusing on the person or even the behavior, focus on their feelings (and your feelings) of internal joy. That ultimately is what is rewarding.
I wouldn’t ever tell my son he is bad or anything negative—but telling him he is kind, good, true, brave, and strong will enhance those qualities in him and help him to internalize those ideals.”
6. Encourage helping
Developmental Psychologist Dr. Holly Ruhl says, “Positive responses to children’s help seem to promote more helping behaviors when our little ones are first learning these skills. But as our tots become more proficient at helping, reinforcement may not be needed as much and may undermine intrinsic desires to help.”
She suggests these six ways kiddos can help around the house.
- Sweeping floors
2. Putting clothes in the washer
3. Putting plates on the table
4. Putting toys away
5. Participating in getting dressed
6. Fetching needed items
7. Embrace a positive attitude
Model a “glass half full” attitude. Praise one another for being kind or doing something thoughtful or achieving something. Make the people around you feel important. Be friendly to strangers—smile, say hi.
Clinical Psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, Dr. Laura Markham says, “Be more present and don’t postpone joy. Soak in the beauty and happiness of every moment you can. Stop rushing and revel in your child’s laughter, the sweet smell of his hair, her joy in mastering something new. “Smelling the roses” is what makes parenting worth all the headaches. It replenishes your spirit. It inspires your children to connect and cooperate.”
8. Foster their caring spirit
Show your children how to care by caring best for them. Be vulnerable, warm and gracious.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara author of the best selling book, Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers says, “A caring spirit is what underlies the capacity to feel warmth, love and appreciation toward others. What we need to nurture most of all in our kids is a caring spirit. But this is not done through lessons, rewards, bribes or threats. Caring spirits are created by adults who care for a child and form a relationship with them.
We need to preserve our children’s soft hearts as it is not only the birthplace of gratitude but is also required for the realization of human potential. To care is what makes us fully human and humane. We need to preserve and protect the roots from which gratitude arises by caring for our children’s emotions.”
9. Help them understand their emotions
Name them, read about them, let them know that all of their feelings are okay to feel then give them the tools they need to manage them. Show them you understand how they’re feeling.
Psychologist and founder of Peaceful Mama Coaching. Dr. Azine Neiman says, “Your little one’s emotional expression is growing by leaps and bounds. To encourage your child’s expression of feelings, there are two changes that you can make to help your child express their feelings in an effective manner.
1. Reflect back your child’s feelings. For instance, if you notice your child pouting when you pick them up from school, take notice and say, “It seems like you’re upset. I’m here, if you want to talk about it.” 2. Notice your own feelings and do something about them. When you notice yourself becoming upset you can say, “I am starting to get frustrated. I am going to take a 10 minute break in my room.”
10. Allow them to see you as an imperfect human
Model grace and let them know that making mistakes is okay. That everyone does.
Author and Positive Parenting expert Rebecca Eanes says, “I am a good person, but I also know that I am flawed. I am an imperfect human that messes up despite my best efforts, and I know that my little imperfect humans are going to mess up, too. That doesn’t make their poor choices “okay,” but it makes them understandable and gives us all a chance to grow and improve. Sometimes correction is absolutely necessary to be sure. And sometimes we just need a little grace.”