Female Teacher With Two Elementary School Pupils Wearing Uniform Using Digital Tablet At DeskDr. Wayne Dyer famously wrote, “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” Since we know that acts of bullying have detrimental effect on young people’s self-esteem, it’s more important than ever before to teach children how to be kind, and why it’s so important.

Much of what children learn about reactions to and treatment of others are learned from social interactions with their peers. You can have a positive impact by helping students navigate the muddy waters of such interactions. How? There are many ways to incorporate lessons of altruism and empathy into your classroom for children of any age. Below are five creative ways to help develop your students’ emotional and social competence.

  1. Lead by example. At any age, telling a child to be nice won’t make nearly as much of an impact as showing them what it means to be nice. Reinforce kindness in every aspect of your interactions with students throughout the day—even at times when you are the most frustrated or disappointed. When your students see you treating everyone respectfully and courteously, you model acceptable behavior that they will want to emulate.
  2. Teach students how to recognize different emotions. Not every child develops with a natural sense of emotional intelligence. If you believe some of the children in your classroom struggle to pick up on social cues, and that their misunderstandings are resulting in conflicts with their peers, then teach them how to recognize emotions. Gamify the lesson by showing video clips or photos of overtly emotional people, whether they be extremely happy, sad, excited, or angry. Ask your students to identify the emotion (i.e. happy, sad, frustrated, angry, embarrassed, etc). Then, move to images and videos in which the emotional responses are more subtle. Continue the dialog with your students and help them better understand how to read less overt emotional cues.
  3. Participate in activities of kindness as a class. Adopt a family for the holidays, share in the responsibility of raising a class pet, or ask students to write letters of thanks to members of our Armed Forces. Projects such as these allow young people to feel the benefits they receive from helping others and being responsible and caring. Such are moments that impact impressionable minds and hearts. As a class, reflect upon how giving to others made everyone feel. You can also turn this into a writing assignment or a homemade picture book for younger students. For more ideas, see our previous post.
  4. Remind students of their own feelings. Continuously remind students that they should “treat others the way they’d like to be treated.” By regularly saying the phrase, it will stick in a child’s mind and be conjured into consciousness when he comes to a critical pivot point at which he needs to make a judgment about how to treat someone. While you’re at it, also teach your students that if they “can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. This impactful rule can protect students from erupting with hurtful words that could damage another child’s confidence.
  5. Use kind language. Some of the most critical times to reinforce kindness are when you witness a child being rude or even cruel to a fellow classmate. Use this opportunity to have the children replay the scene with kind language instead. For example, if a student tells another that he doesn’t want to play with him because he wants to color instead, validate how the child feels, and then teach him how to express his feelings courteously. You could say, “I understand that you want to color. Max wants to spend time with you. Why don’t you invite Max to color with you?”

As a highly-influential adult in the lives of hundreds of students, what do you do to instill kindness and empathy in your students? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

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