Six Ways to Cultivate a Charitable Spirit in Kids

Six Ways to Cultivate a Charitable Spirit in Kids

Dr. Michele Borba has a new book out tomorrow and I’m thrilled she’s here today with ideas of how to get your spread kindness. I have some ideas for Random Acts of Kindness and a DIY Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar as well.

———— Kaila is not yet four, but the San Diego preschooler already has the makings of empathetic children. When I banged my toe at a party, the three-year-old was the first to my side. I watched her size things up, look carefully at my “injury,” and then empathize. Her face switched from inquisitiveness to concern, and then she looked up with the biggest eyes, and said, “I sorry about your toe. You need Band-Aid for your owie? I help you.”

Kaila may have missed a few words, but her message displayed a charitable spirit even at a young age. And it was because her parents were raising her to care. Research contends that though our kids are hard-wired to empathize and care about others, the traits of humanness must be nurtured. And the best ways to do so are always spontaneous and don’t cost a dime. Here are six science-backed tips to cultivate children’s hearts from my latest book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World.

Praising children’s character (“You’re kind,” “My, you’re helpful,” “You’re so “caring”) helps them see themselves as caring people. So when your child acts kind-hearted, point it out, but also use a label that focuses on her caring nature. “You’re the kind of person who likes to help people.” Or: “You are a considerate and helpful person.” Your child will be more likely to repeat we tend to act how we view ourselves.

We’re quick to snap photos of our kids’ academic successes, athletic prowess, or cute looks. But those shutter clicks convey to children that those images bring us the most pride. Make sure to display prominently photos of your kids engaged in kind and thoughtful endeavors so they recognize that “caring matters.” And let your kids overhear (without them thinking they’re supposed to) you describing those qualities to others.

One of the easiest ways to inspire children to be kind is by reinforcing it. Kindness begets kindness. So find a jar or plastic container and label it “Kindness Jar.” (Your kids can decorate it with paint, stickers, yarn or whatever else hits their fancy). Each time a parent or child sees another member act in a kind way, they add a small stone (plastic bead or colored construction paper square) to the jar. Later, take a few minutes to review the kind acts and when full, do something fun together as a family to celebrate! For older kids fill the jar with coins donated by each child as a small part of their weekly allowance. Then donate the money to a charity of your family’s choice.

For an example of a Kindness Jar, check out R We There Yet Mom‘s post on Kids Activities Blog.

The best ways to stretch your child’s empathy are using everyday moments. The newspaper or television news is rich with possibilities. “The fire destroyed their homes. What do you think those kids are feeling and thinking? What can we do to let them know we care?” Or use real events in your own family. “How does Dad feel hearing that his mom is so sick?” “I wonder if there’s a way we can help?”

Remember when we read a book and were so stirred that for a least a few seconds we couldn’t move? Books have that ability to activate empathy. Find books that help your child step into the character’s shoes, and then ask: “How would you feel if that happened to you?” For young kids: The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. For older kids: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

If you want your child to be charitable then consciously demonstrate kind behavior. There are so many daily opportunities: phoning a friend who is down, picking up trash, soothing a child, asking someone how she is, baking cookies for the elderly neighbor. After performing the kindness, be sure to tell your child how good it made you feel! The old saying,children learn what they live, has a lot of truth to it.

The truth is, kids don’t learn how to be kind from reading about it in a textbook, but from doing kind deeds. The more children witness or experience what it feels like to give, the more likely they will adopt a charitable spirit. And that’s how we’ll raise the next generation to be good, caring people.

To win a copy of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D., please fill out the Rafflecopter below.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an award-winning educational psychologist and an expert in parenting, bullying and character development. She is the author of 22 books including her latest, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Check out: or follow her on Twitter @micheleborba.

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I’m sharing parenting ideas on my collaborative Pinterest board: Parenting Help Desk:

Parenting With Purpose from Sleeping Should Be Easy

BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.

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