By Cherie Werner
We have a very creative God! He has made so many interesting and unique animals, plants, places, and people . . . including all of the people he placed in your classroom this year. Each one of your students has a special purpose and plan from God. Each of your students will grow up to be a unique creation with his or her own set of gifts and abilities.
Some of your students will succeed and some will struggle, but no matter how they do in school or what they choose to do with their lives, one of the best things you can teach them is how to be kind.
Young children are naturally self-centered because their brain hasn’t fully developed a sense of empathy. They aren’t always able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They don’t always think about the lasting effects of what they say or do to others.
On the other hand, even with sin in the world, most children care about others and want to help. As teachers, we can take advantage of those natural tendencies. We can teach children how to be kind. We can show them what kindness looks like. We can give them opportunities to practice and show kindness to others.
Although it might feel daunting to have to teach “one more thing”, teaching kindness can happen very naturally in the everyday workings of your classroom. Before you begin, the most important thing to do is pray. Ask God to create opportunities for discussion, modeling, and practice. Pray for yourself. Ask God to help you to be a good model, to show you where you can be more kind to your students and coworkers, and to alert you to those teachable moments that happen throughout the week. Pray for your students. Ask God to fill each of them with his Holy Spirit and create in them the fruits of kindness and compassion toward others.
A few ways to teach kindness:
Teach Empathy: Use social stories to talk about and even role play situations that create different kinds of feelings: fear, anger, joy, sadness, love, frustration, and so on. Help children to identify the feelings involved and ask them: “How would you feel if that happened to you?” and “What would you like a friend to do for you if you felt that way?” Help children understand how someone else feels in that situation and then talk about how to help or encourage that person.
Practice Using Positive Words: Encourage children find something good to say and to be quiet if they can’t. Have children practice complimenting each other: “I like your hat.” “You have nice handwriting.” “You are a fast runner.” “I like all the colors you used in your picture.”
Teach Friendliness: Train your students how to greet others. Practice smiling, shaking hands, keeping eye contact, and having good manners (especially saying please and thank you).
Practice Asking Questions: One of the best ways to be kind is to show interest in others. Help your students practice asking questions: “How are you today?” “Did you have a good morning?” “Tell me about your picture.” “What did you do after school yesterday?” “What did you like about that movie?” “How do you feel about that?”
Make Cards and Pray: Think about the people in your school, church, and community. Talk about people you can thank like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, the librarian, the principal, custodians, other teachers, secretaries, older students who help out in your classroom, pastors, postal workers, business owners, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and policemen. Make thank you cards for them and let them know you are praying for them. In addition, talk about people who have needs: nursing home residents, shut-ins, students or families who might be sick, families with military members, student athletes, or teens who have tests coming up. Make cards and pray for them as well. Making cards can sometimes feel like a chore for a busy classroom but being intentional about praying for people and using words to show your gratitude and concern doesn’t take much time. If your students hear you consistently thank the custodian and pray for those in need, they will start doing it as well. Kindness is contagious!
Kindness Challenges: Give your class a secret mission each day or week. Invite them to go out of their way to help others without letting them know what they are doing. Some examples of secret missions are: opening doors for people, letting others go first, looking for ways to help, asking someone new to play, sitting by someone new on the bus or at lunch, saying good morning to as many people as possible, smiling more, giving out some hugs, helping a friend carry their stuff.
Be Kindness Detectives: Challenge your class to look for kindness in others. Identify the things that happen in your classroom and in your school that help others feel good or meet a need. If your students are on the look out for kindness, they are more likely to be kind themselves.
Use Teachable Moments: When you see someone being kind, point it out and thank that person for being kind. When you see a situation where someone could have acted differently, take time to help that student “go back” and do it again in a better, kinder way.
Look for Resources: There are many books for children about kindness that you can read to your class and talk about together. In addition, there are websites that can help. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has a website for teachers that includes lessons, videos, and kindness ideas. The Be Kind People Project also provides resources for use in the classroom.
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