It’s hard to say what Baby’s personality will be like as they grow up – it’s probably a pretty safe bet that dropping things on the floor won’t be their favorite activity forever, but it’s also hard to say what they're going to replace it with. So whether Baby moves into a dinosaur phase next or discovers exactly how fascinating dress-up can be, one of the things most parents find themselves hoping for is that they will be a nice person – at the very least, a little niceness will make their teen years significantly easier on you.
Kindness doesn’t come out of nowhere, though. Just like how if you want Baby to be able to read, someone is probably going to have to teach them, or at least give them the tools to teach themself, the best way to help foster Baby‘s future kindness is to help them work toward it.
Show them what kindness means
Babies aren’t born understanding how to treat others the way they want to be treated – in fact, for a significant chunk of their first year of life, they’re not totally sure they’re individuals who are separate from their parents, and without an understanding of what other people are, it’s tricky for Baby to have any conception of their feelings. Even after they start to differentiate themself from their favorite people in the world, they doesn’t start out with an understanding of their own feelings, let alone what effect they might have on anyone else. When they do start to understand other people’s feelings, though, and either react to them or not, one of the biggest ingredients that goes into the way they act is the example you set. Just like when they are learning to talk and learning to walk, when it comes to being nice, the first things Baby learns will come from you.
This means, for example, that if you listen patiently when they talk about their interests and concerns, even when they doesn’t have actual words to express them yet, they are more likely to grow into a good listener than if you didn’t. And if they doesn’t, you’ll have a strong foundation to speak from when you have a conversation about respecting the thoughts and opinions of others.
Help Baby be aware of their own feelings
Before Baby can be considerate of the feelings of others, they have to start to figure out how to identify and deal with their own. Try to identify when Baby is frustrated or sad or upset, and talk it through with them. This starts to give them the vocabulary to talk about feelings themself. You’ll also help them start to work out how to deal with negative emotions without taking them out on others, as well as to set up the building blocks for empathy for others who are feeling the same way.
The Making Caring Common project is an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and it’s centered around trying to promote kindness in children. They use information from the National Center for Education Statistics to assert that American children are more likely to feel like success is valued by their parents than kindness, and that 80% of them also value success more highly than kindness. The Making Caring Common project advocates putting more importance on kindness when talking to young children as a way of helping to shape their priorities in a more considerate and empathetic direction.
Talking to children about kindness probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a wild Saturday night, but it also doesn’t have to be dry or difficult for you or Baby. Early conversations about kindness can be as simple and fun as a few extra words here and there about which characters are being nice to each other in Baby’s favorite picture book. The world would be a better place if everybody was kind to each other, and it starts with Baby.