Kindness can seem fleeting these days. Flippant Facebook posts, aggressive drivers, harsh tweets, harried salespeople, indifferent neighbors, more flippant Facebook posts, all feed into a general feeling of what’s-in-it-for-me, instead of encouraging an attitude of how-can-I-help-others?
In other words, being nice is often the exception, not the rule, and that might leave you wondering if anyone even knows how to be a nicer person anymore.
Yet besides the obvious benefits of being kind, like a general sense of contentment, being rude can have unexpected consequences. For example, a 2017 study revealed sick infants were more likely to get better care from medical staff if their parents were nice. This small study suggests something most parents probably know intuitively: when you are kind, people tend to respond kindly back.
Equally important, your kids take notice. Your demeanor and attitude are something they’re likely to mirror – for better or worse. While most parents don’t set out to be mean, you can easily slip into bad habits by default if you’re not careful.
Here are few simple steps to help you tap into your kind side.
Give sincere compliments – often
Helping others feel good about themselves has a wonderful side affect – it boosts your mood, too. Seek out opportunities to offer others compliments, the more specific the better. For example, let your child’s teacher know how much you appreciate him taking the time to review study habits with your fifth grader. Or let your second grader know what a good job she did tying her shoes all by herself, or putting away her kitchen plate – without even being asked.
Try it now: Help your child write a note to a friend thanking them for something sweet they did for her.
Serve in small ways
Opening doors for others. Helping someone get her groceries into the car. Smiling at someone who seems down. Being kind doesn’t need to involve a long, thought-out plan for niceness. But it doesn’t just come naturally, notes Dr. Eric Herman, MA, LLP, from the department of psychiatry and psychology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Besides modeling niceness for your child, teach them that it takes effort. “Let them know that thinking of others and not just themselves is a skill,” Herman says. “A skill that also happens to be a characteristic of successful people.”
Try it now: Post a quote about kindness on your social channels. Show your child what you posted and explain that you’re trying to be nice to others in whatever way you can.
Take a deep breath before responding (or typing!)
So your brother-in-law just shared a link or a scathing critique of one of your favorite causes. Or maybe an acquaintance of yours just said something snarky to you over lunch. What do you do? Sure, your first inclination might be to respond with an equally critical retort, but does it really help you to feel better? Or them? Consider instead giving that other person the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps she’s having a lousy day or someone is just mindlessly sharing posts. Try not to let someone else’s negative attitude turn your attitude sour, too.
Try it now: Look up relaxation breathing techniques with your child online and practice a few of them together. Let her know you’re working on being kind and it’s not always easy.
Practice self control
OK, we all have those days where things just don’t go according to plan – the dog leaves you a stinky present right in the middle of the kitchen rug; your 10-year-old forgot to tell you he was assigned to bring 3 dozen doughnuts to class that day; oh, and your car tire has a slow leek that you can’t wait any longer to repair – it’s flat! While it would be easy to growl and grumble at each of these setbacks, try tackling them with patience instead. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control your attitude about them. And when you plod along despite challenges your child will learn to do likewise, advises Herman, the father of twins.
Try it now: Set a reminder on your phone to go off each day at a certain time (maybe when you wake up) that shares an inspirational message.
Channel Miss Manners
It’s easy to say, “Thank you,” and “Please,” so why not make sure you remember to? Being polite goes hand in hand with being kind (and it’s easy). Give your child gentle reminders to do the same. You might even go one step further and teach them how to shake someone’s hand confidently, with a firm hand, and looking into the person’s eyes. You might also remind them not to interrupt when someone else is speaking (or to text while someone’s trying to talk to them).
Try it now: Look up “Thank you,” and “Please” in other languages with your child and try saying them together. Merci beaucoup!
We all make mistakes or have days where we feel frazzled and say – or do – something we regret. And so do others. Make an effort to be forgiving towards others, including your kids. And once you’ve forgiven them, make sure to let it go and not bring it up again.
Try it now: When something bothers you write it in your journal instead of cutting someone down verbally (even if they deserve it!). You can walk your child through doing the same.
Take time for yourself
“It’s hard to be kind when you’re feeling overly tired and stressed out,” notes Herman, who prefers the word ‘kind’ to ‘nice’ – “nicer sounds more superficial compared to kind.” His suggestion is to find a way to recharge yourself, whether that’s making sure you get a good night’s sleep, heading out to exercise or whatever you need to do to feel good about yourself.
Try it now: Go for a walk around the neighborhood (bundle up if it’s cold outside), even getting fresh air can help lift your mood.
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.