Raising children who are kind and compassionate toward others starts at the most basic level: with their parents. Mothers and fathers who model kindness and love toward each other and everyone else they encounter are the best depiction of what being inclusive and kind really means. And you start modeling that all-important lesson to your children from the very first day you meet them.

Wee ones [0-18 months]

Babies are sponges, so they’ll start absorbing your behaviors and language instantly. No to worry though. That just gives you great opportunities all day to start developing a kind, compassionate human. Use kind words in your everyday life, and talk with your little one about what you’re saying and what it means.

Encourage waving and smiling

This simple act of friendliness is one of the most basic gestures of kindness we can offer another person. It’s a small but powerful act. Babies will also associate the positive reaction their wave and smile produces with happiness and be more likely to do it without prompting.

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Read diverse books

Because babies love reading, one of the best things you can do is fill your homes with books about love, kindness and respect for all people. Look for stories that include people from all walks of life so they can see how beautifully diverse the world around them is. Some great titles include “Baby’s First Kind Words”, “I Am Every Good Thing” and “If You Come to Earth”.

Celebrate differences

Positively point out differences in people you notice when talking to your baby as a way to help him understand how unique each person truly is. Chat about what you see as well as what you may not see, and use other positive references like animals, food and flowers to help babies understand the vast array of differences that exist in so many situations.

iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

Tots [18 months to 3 years]

Toddlers begin making important connections about the world around them, led by your powerful example and guidance. Here are some ideas to help you keep in mind just how pivotal your role in her life is.

Talk positively about yourself and others

The words you choose and how you talk will leave an impression on your toddler that they will eventually emulate. This is also a great way to start teaching toddlers about empathy by discussing with them how to recognize emotions in other people.

Introduce acts of services

Teach your toddler about helping by giving him easy chores to complete, but don’t frame them as chores. Instead, emphasize what it means to help someone else and how that makes a person feel. Talk about service to others regularly, and be sure to point out to your toddler when someone else performs an act of service.

Own your mistakes and apologize for them

It’s crucial for kids to understand that Mom and Dad know how to say they are sorry if they have done something wrong, and it’s equally important for parents to talk with their children about how they could have acted differently, especially if they are apologizing for unkind behavior.

Be mindful of media

Chances are that at this age, your child is starting to show interest in media. That’s okay. Just make sure you take advantage of their natural curiosity by introducing and encouraging a range of television shows that celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Kim Berglund, executive director of development for Disney Jr, said during a webinar about kids’ media that children are never too young to start learning what it means to be anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic. That means introducing them to media that offers a wide range of diverse characters to help kids understand what diversity and inclusivity really looks like. Shows like “Doc McStuffins” and “Mira, Royal Detective” are two specific examples geared toward young children that show people in a community of color in a positive way.

iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

Preschoolers [3 to 5 years old]

These kiddos are at a critical age where they begin to understand the complexity of the world around them. And what a beautiful world it is. At this age, it’s tough to hammer home the larger picture of why being kind and inclusive is important. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start planting the seeds.

Interactive play

Pretend play really goes to a new level during these years. The plots are more thought out and the characters become far more dramatic. As a parent of a child who likes to pretend play, you often get selected as one of those characters — a perfect opportunity to help teach your child these lessons in an immersive way. Some things your character could say are “I lost my toy, can you help me find it?” or “I want to play, but I don’t know anyone” and see where your child takes it, offering guidance when needed.

Lead by example

A great way to show them we should all be kind and think of others is to spark conversations and small talk with people around you of all ages and ethnicities — neighbors, people in the grocery store, wherever. Be aware of people who may feel left out and offer a welcoming conversation.

Read and discuss

“Be Kind,” is a great book that shows empathy and compassion one little girl expresses in different scenarios, including the bullying of a classmate and when a friend gets left out at playtime. It helps kids understand that others have feelings just like them and demonstrates how to just be a good human. Some other great books about empathy and inclusivity include; “Hello, My Name is Octicorn,” “Spork,” “Lovely,” and “All Are Welcome.”

Bring it full circle

Kids in this age range are just starting to be able to understand more complex situations and how some of those can bring about feelings of sadness and isolation to others. Often, your child is more likely to talk about when this happens to them rather than others. This is a good opportunity to discuss how to handle that situation from both ends. Talk about what happened and how it made them feel. Then discuss what would have made them feel better and help them see the bigger picture. For instance, “Abby asking you to play would have made you feel better huh. We should always try to include others, right?”


iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

Big kids [6 to 9 years old]

Teachable moments are everywhere and can pop up in a moment’s notice. These are good years to take the concepts of feelings and kindness to the next level and put them into action.

Reach out to new Americans

As we come across new Americans in our various circles, go sit down by them, introduce yourselves and get to know them. If English is not their first language, learn a few words with your child from that family’s native language to “break out” the next time you see them. It shows respect, is a great conversation starter and shows your child that it’s good to learn about and welcome other cultures.

The daily grind

As much as we wish it would, being kind and inclusive doesn’t always come naturally. This is where the daily grind comes in. Ensure your child is showing manners and kindness to people every day through little actions: thanking a server at a restaurant, holding the door for the next person behind you, saying “excuse me” if they bump into somebody, picking something up for someone when they’ve dropped it.

Don’t be afraid to talk about differences

When a child sees an obvious difference on full display and asks about it, don’t treat it like you’re having to give them the birds and bees talk. Avoiding it and pretending it doesn’t exist only sets a tone like that difference is something bad. Talk about differences to your child using positive language and wrap it up by pointing out some similarities that are bigger and more binding than the differences.

Point out a superpower

When your child comes across another child with disabilities or sees them on TV, encourage your child to think about what that other child’s “superpower” must be to overcome their disability. Are they in a wheelchair? Surely they must be developing other, not-so-common abilities to help them navigate their unique situation. Maybe a child with a learning disability has their own, special strength to help them with their struggle, or perhaps a child born without a hand has learned some pretty cool one-handed tricks over time. Make sure they know that adversity is cool.

iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

Tweeners [10 to 12 years old]

By now, kids may know more than you now with regards to technology, social media and everything that comes with that. But you know more about life. It’s important to put what they’re already seeing and hearing from their devices into a good context full of teachable moments and lessons on kindness and inclusivity.

Help out an elderly neighbor

As parents, we are so wrapped up in taking care of our children, so we might inadvertently send the message that they are the center of the universe just because it’s obvious they’re the center of ours. Show them how to step outside of themselves by having them help an elderly neighbor with things like yard work, shoveling or getting the garbage out. They may just make a valuable, wise friend in the process.

Cast a wide net

Encourage your child to explore various extracurricular activities and clubs — without going overboard and burning them out. Participating in things like church groups, sports, theater, academic clubs or whatever helps enrich them, exposes them to a larger and likely more diverse set of friendships. And removed from the pressures of a school setting, those friendships can sometimes have a way of thriving.

Teach them to stand up for themselves

It isn’t just the classroom bully who can cause pain and anxiety to your child and others, but they may soon realize that their so-called “friends” can be just as bad. By teaching your child that they don’t have to stay friends with others who are toxic or treating them or others poorly, they are also learning that they are free to choose friends based on something deeper and kinder. And once they’re able to stand up for themselves, they’re often much more likely to stand up for somebody else.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

It’s an uphill battle to try to keep kids away from social media and YouTube. Instead of dying on that hill, live on it. Send your child little videos and stories that show examples of what kindness can do. Maybe it’s somebody buying a homeless person a meal, maybe it’s rallying around a child with disabilities or somebody in need — there are endless videos out there. Constantly “remind” them of how powerful that is and how, if they choose, they could make a lasting impact on the lives of others.

iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms
iStock / Special to On the Minds of Moms

Teens [13 to 18 years old]

You might think that by the time your child reaches the teenage years, it’s too late to teach them skills like kindness, compassion and inclusivity. Not so.

While the seeds might be planted in preschool, in high school those seeds might just bear fruit. By the high school years, as adulthood creeps closer, teens can start to see that the little things they do can impact others lives for good or bad.

Talk less, smile more

Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that lyric for Aaron Burr to sing to the headstrong Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway smash musical “Hamilton,” but “talk less, smile more” is something we could all practice. Suggest your teen smile more often, even while walking down the halls of school. The smile will make your teen seem more open and approachable and could make the receiver of the smile feel better even for an instant.

Compliment little things

Challenge your teen to try and compliment at least one person once a day. It can be something unimportant, like telling someone you like their haircut or their shirt. You never know how badly that person might be feeling about themselves. That compliment might just make their day.

Listen, listen, listen

Studies have shown that people who are considered to be good listeners are perceived to be more likeable, popular and open. Doesn’t everyone want that? Teach your teen to pay attention when someone is talking. Really listen. Don’t just wait until you can talk again. And encourage them to put down the phone while talking one on one to friends (that could be a tough one for all of us).

Make a bigger circle

It’s easy for teens to get comfortable with their small circle of friends. But encourage them to widen their friend group when they can. It will bring new experiences and new possibilities.There will be times when they might just need one or two close friends and that’s healthy and comforting. But sometimes, when the stakes aren’t as high, include others for everyone’s sake.

Source: Dr. Barbara Greenberg, Clinical Psychologist