10 Ways to Teach Kindness, Gratitude, and Giving Back to Kids
Kids notice everything. Knowing that makes it all the more important for parents, caregivers, and teachers to model the behaviors we want children to develop, like being kind, showing appreciation, and contributing to the community.
According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education Making Caring Common project, “Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s a foundation for acting ethically, for good relationships of many kinds, for loving well, and for professional success.”
These ideas and activities put kindness, gratitude, and giving back on deck, and can be customized for the kids in your life—at school or at home.
1. Start with self-care
Being kind to yourself and thankful for the small things in your life will help build your inner resources. Whether that means taking an extra 10 minutes to enjoy your morning tea or taking an energizing walk, investing in restorative self-care puts you in a better frame of mind to share yourself with others. Kids will take note and learn to prioritize their own self-care, too.
2. Encourage random acts of kindness
Let someone go ahead of you in line. Hold a door open for a friend, colleague, or stranger. Leave a kind note on a student’s desk or tucked inside their coat pocket. Invite your students to do the same by creating a “wall of kindness,” where anyone can post notes for a classmate. Label your wall with an inspirational quote, like this one from Aesop’s fable of The Lion and the Mouse: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
3. See something, do something
Teach kids the value of showing kindness without being asked. If you see someone sitting alone at lunch, ask if you can join them. Don’t just walk past someone else’s discarded water bottle or lunch bag—pick it up!
4. Share a rose and a thorn
At snack time, circle time, or during a carpool commute, invite everyone to share a rose (something nice that happened) and a thorn (something they struggled with). This playful activity nurtures active listening skills and encourages kids to empathize with others. As Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
5. Thank a public service worker
Our neighborhoods run smoothly with the help of many people that kids encounter daily. Encourage kids to show gratitude in any way they’d like, from saying thank you to the bus driver to creating a handmade card for their local mail carrier. Giving a crossing guard or sanitation worker a thumbs up can go a long way to brighten their day!
6. Collect coins for a cause
Set up a coin collection jar for your family, classroom, or neighborhood to raise money for a local cause: an animal shelter, nursing home, or food pantry. Those forgotten pennies in the bottom of pockets and purses can add up quickly! Coin machines at your local bank or grocery store can turn coins into dollars that can be put to good use, and make a difference.
7. Run errands for a neighbor in need
Connecting with neighbors—especially older ones or those who may be sick—is a selfless act of kindness that’s easy to model for kids. Bring your kids along when you knock on a neighbor’s door to ask if you can walk their dog, shovel snow, or rake leaves that are piling up. You can also bake cookies with your kids to bring to neighbors or grab some fresh produce for them the next time you go to the store.
8. Make your world more beautiful
Plant wildflower seeds on a bare patch of dirt, organize a painting party to freshen up a tired fence, adopt a block in your neighborhood to keep it free of litter, or if you’re feeling ambitious, start a community garden! Ask kids to reflect on the ripple effect of their beautification project and think about how they feel knowing they are impacting others positively.
9. Take a hike
Stepping outside to truly appreciate the beauty of nature is a great way to restore perspective and respect for our planet. Marvel together at how high the trees reach toward the sky. Gaze as far into the distance as you can. Smell the roses. Make sure you are kind to the creatures underfoot and grateful for the interesting sounds and sensations that our environment provides!
10. Celebrate Kindness Days
Yes, there are days throughout the year that celebrate kindness! World Kindness Day (November 13) and Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17) are a couple fun examples–but why not make a point of celebrating kindness every day?
This list can (and should) go on and on! Take these ideas and make them your own. How will you spread kindness and gratitude?
Karen Kane is an editorial, marketing, and communications professional celebrating meaningful print, digital, and real-world experiences for kids, parents, caregivers, and educators.