The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate, but it’s so much more than that. It can mean different things to different people. When you think of kindness, what words or actions come to mind?
In essence, kindness is in how it’s shown and that goes beyond merely being nice. Being kind is intentional and voluntary. It also creates a chain reaction effect. Think of the last time someone did something kind for you, which made you feel great so you wanted to pay it forward.
Kindness is a lot like love – it’s unconditional, selfless, caring, thoughtful, empathetic, and accepting. But, just like love, it takes understanding and practice. We show love through good deeds, compassion, a smile, a hug when someone needs it, and a listening ear.
Is kindness innate or a result of a child’s environment?
As a species, kindness is a quality that seems inherent in humans. This is evident in our collective motivation to survive and to be healthy and happy. In infancy and beyond, humans rely on the care of others to survive, so this basic need for care is deep down in our biology. We are a social and interdependent species, and we require compassion to live, thrive, and reduce suffering.
Science has even shown that babies as young as three months prefer kindness over meanness in a series of studies, which challenges the assumption that self-interest alone is our key to moving through life. Although innate, kindness is like a muscle that can be strengthened. The more you practice it, the stronger the benefits will be.
How do we strengthen our kind side?
As a concept, kindness has layers of complexity. A basic example is when you would like to be kind to someone but you first need to understand their perspective, or your act could be taken in the wrong way. We need to cultivate many other skills to enhance and support kindness, such as:
- Cultural awareness
- Relationship skills
We don’t come into the world with these traits and skills. They need to be learnt and practiced from the start, and as adults, we’re always learning and that’s what makes us human. We’re not perfect.
Why kindness matters
It’s essential that we nurture kindness not just in ourselves, our family, and our community. It’s vital at a systemic level. The world that our children are growing up in and the institutions, such as our schools, aged care facilities, criminal justice, and economic systems we create must reflect and manifest kindness.
Through kindness, you can encourage your child to be a force for good and change in the world long into their future.
You’re probably wondering how an infant could learn any of these complex skills. It’s actually quite simple. Here are some ideas to encourage, inspire, and nurture kindness in your baby:
Be kind to yourself
If we’re not kind to ourselves, how can we be kind to others? Having greater self-compassion puts us in the right physical, emotional, and mental state to be compassionate towards others. Yes, it’s the old ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ concept. Think about how you feel when someone is kind to you, so you can imagine what the power of doing the same for yourself on a regular basis is like. It doesn’t have to be some unrealistic, time-consuming self-care task. Being kind to yourself can look like:
- Doing less in your day. Is there something you can cut out or outsource?
- Thinking about or writing down what you’re grateful for.
- Finding a positive affirmation that resonates with you and repeating it over and over. See our list of ideas here.
- Practicing self-care that’s found in the small daily moments with your baby. Here are some simple ideas that prove self-care doesn’t have to be so complicated.
Speak positively of others
You might assume that babies don’t truly understand what we’re saying, but they do and they sense our tone and mood. So, avoid speaking negatively about your baby or complaining about your partner with friends, for instance. We all do it from time to time to vent about our baby’s sleep or eating habits, or our partner’s lack of support, but it’s best to keep those complaints out of earshot of our little ones. This is particularly important as they’re growing up in a world with cyber bullying.
Be a good role model
Be the behaviour you want to see you in your child. Speak kindly to people you interact with throughout the day: wish the supermarket cashier a good day, thank the stranger that moves aside while you wheel your pram along the footpath, compliment a friend you meet up with for coffee.
Let them see you smile and do good deeds for others. Babies are constantly watching their parents as it helps them to learn and process the world around them. Every act of kindness makes a difference. You might like to nurture a living thing, such as a pet or a plant, to model what caring for others looks like.
Practice respectful, positive parenting
The best way to teach your baby all of these wonderful skills is to show them towards your child. Be open to all of their emotions, even the ones that make you uncomfortable. Respond to them how you would want someone to respond to you if you were feeling those same emotions. Speak to them with respect, and respond to their needs with love and empathy. Read books together that demonstrate kindness and compassion. You could point out how the characters must feel giving or receiving acts of kindness.
When you find ways to nurture kindness in your baby, they will feel better about the world and about themselves, helping them to grow into happy and loving people.