The bickering. The squabbling. The fights and insults. Siblings can behave in ways that seem quite unloving.
How can parents raise kids who treat each other with kindness? While natural personality differences often affect children’s ability to demonstrate kindness to siblings, parents can be encouraged that this important character trait is just as much a matter of nurture as it is nature. Kindness is a skill that can be learned.
Kindness is rooted in a number of character traits: empathy, patience, forgiveness, self-control. Kids learn these traits at home. Do you model these qualities? How do you act toward a neighbor who annoys you? How do you speak about relatives when they aren’t present?
You won’t respond perfectly in every frustrating situation. Learning to model kindness is a gradual process. Admit mistakes and move on.
Show the bigger picture
One way I teach my kids kindness is to help them see an outside perspective on their behavior. I might ask something like, “What do you think it’s like to be playing with you right now?” Focusing on others’ feelings guides children toward considerate behaviors and attitudes — they begin to understand how their actions affect others.
Discuss physical factors
In our home, the roughest moments between siblings seem to occur when they’re hungry or after a long, tiring day. You may have noticed a similar pattern of behavior in your home. Help children to be mindful of these moments. You’re not creating excuses for bad behavior; you’re helping them understand that physical factors such as hunger or tiredness can contribute to their irritability and impulsive actions.
The best way to become good at anything is to practice. Involve your kids in performing small acts of kindness within your family. Reach outside your home, too, doing favors for someone in your neighborhood or providing food to ministries that serve the homeless. Kids often surprise us with their ability to show kindness and generosity, especially to others in need. Our ongoing goal is to help them transform these little acts of compassion and generosity into lives in which kindness is the norm, not the exception.
Daniel Huerta is the vice president of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family.