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Teaching Children to be Kind

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

As a parent, do you think of yourself as a teacher? You are the first and most important teacher your child will ever have! In addition to teaching your small children the letters of the alphabet, colors, counting, and singing “The Wheels on the Bus”, there’s another area of educating them that is just, if not more, important. Parents also teach values and appropriate behavior. In addition to becoming successful academically, it is vital for children to develop traits of kindness and consideration. Parents can consciously promote and develop these character traits in their children by both example and opportunity. 

Parents are role models. Children watch their parents very carefully, taking in how their parents speak to each other, the other children in the home, and people in school and the greater community. It is important to model the way you greet others, both in voice and body language. Teach your child to look at the person, extend a hand, smile and say “hello”. Children can be shy or hesitant when they are very young, but continue to lead by example. Continued exposure while out on errands to the food store, bank, or any other destination provides plenty of opportunities to teach friendliness and caring about others. Family life is hectic and teaching moments come about when we are busy multi-tasking. Children accompany parents in most aspects of life, so take advantage and be mindful of the occasions you have to act appropriately by being respectful and kind to people you meet each day. 

A more formalized way to teach kindness, respect, and consideration is by helping as a family at a food or clothing drive, a soup kitchen, or homeless shelter. Oftentimes a church, temple, school, or other community organization posts their need for volunteers. Take advantage of such opportunities and discuss afterwards how good everyone feels by helping others. 

Children may ask for an animal companion at home. This is an excellent way to teach humane treatment. Teaching how to feed, exercise, clean up after, and love a pet is so important for a child’s appreciation and concern about all animals who share this world. Keep in mind, however, that major care responsibilities must fall on the adults if children forget, as it’s not fair or humane for the dog, cat, or other small animal to be neglected. 

When children are behaving well within the family or while mixing with others, make sure to compliment those positive behaviors. Siblings certainly have their moments, and parents need to deal with negative behaviors, However, children sometimes look for attention, by acting in a negative manner because they might be ignored when all is going well. Try to catch them playing nicely together and compliment them. In this way, negative behaviors might decrease since they are receiving attention for positive behaviors. Also, praise is due when children say “please” and “thank you” without being prompted to do so. When children take responsibility to work on and complete their homework, point out how proud you are of their efforts. Feeling appreciated and valued increases a child’s sense of self-worth. That positive behavior often becomes a habit and then a permanent behavior. Feeling good about one’s self often leads to feeling kindly towards others and treating people as they have been treated.

As Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sang, “Teach your children well” and start them on the path to becoming caring, kind, and considerate. As a parent, you are powerful and influential. Use that strength wisely and enjoy watching your children bloom into responsible adulthood.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



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