How to Nurture Kindness in Children

This article is part of a video series with Sharon Rajan, a teacher at Montessori School, Bali. Sharon has over 3o years of experience teaching children 3-6 years in Montessori schools in the US and Canada.

Dr. Linnea: And what about kindness? Because that comes right next, right? Like developing kindness. Really, you were saying before like developing some good human beings that show compassion and respect and kindness to other peers. And you touched a very, very delicate point with girls and boys but it’s not just that, of course, and we’re all…

Sharon: It’s everything. It’s everything. And, you know, what we do in the Montessori environments is we do something called grace and courtesy lessons. So if somebody is continually bumping into somebody, say, for example, just brushing past people or whatever and not caring about what they’re doing, we will stop or we will have a group at the end of the morning and we’ll say, “You know, I noticed today that people are being bumped into. How can we do…if somebody is in your way, what could you do?” And somebody will say, “Oh, you could say excuse me.” Or you could say, “Could you move?” You know, they come up with all these ideas, and then we’ll practice, we’ll practice and I say, “Can you pretend to bump into that person and let’s see what how that person is gonna…?

So practice, because they don’t know. They don’t know, right? I mean, I think naturally they do but then we bombard them with all of these environments that we move them through. They pick up things as they go, and they’re frustrated and they’re tired. All these things come from all of this tiredness and pressure and everything. And so you stop sometimes and you say, “Okay.” It’s like blowing your nose, right? How does the child learn how to blow their nose? You show them. You teach them how, right? It’s the same with other things. I noticed when you talked to so and so, you said this. Like today, we had someone at the lunch table saying, “Oh, so and so is thumbs down.” And I said, “Well, what does that mean?” And she was caught, she kind of went, “I don’t know, she was just following something up.” Then I said, “Well, imagine how it feels to be that person, right? Would you like it if she said that to you because she could very easily say, ‘Well, you’re thumbs down.’ How would that feel?” Right?

And with this other child that I’ve been working with, as far as, you know, just being settled in the classroom, it’s me saying to her, “How would you feel if…?” We always need to turn it around and try and look at it from the other person’s point of view. That’s our job as parents and educators. What is the other person feeling that is equally important to what you’re feeling? You’re not more important than this person, right? It needs to be said, right? You are special, you will always be special to me but this person is also special. Everyone is special in their own way and we’re equally important and we need to find ways to get along with each other. And if you’re upset with someone, okay, let’s find the words. Let’s say. “What’s wrong?” Oh, you bumped into me? Okay. Now, he can say something about it.

And I always say, you know, “Yeah. It’s really nice that you said sorry, but you need to go and ask them, are they okay? I knocked you over, are you okay? I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” Look them in the eye, you know, make contact with people. This is where I personally feel as I get older, these are the things that are not being taught to children that we’re losing. And I think that’s one of the huge reasons that I’ve loved Montessori, is that it’s not just about the academics, in fact, the academics kind of just happen. We are about being together as a community and getting along and caring for each other, and families do that as well, right? It’s our jobs as the adult to explain, “This is how it is.”

Dr. Linnea: Because we hear a lot about, you know, lead by example and teach by example to children, but it always sounds a little bit theoretical, like, what is actually in…?

Sharon: Right. And do they actually understand it, right? And can they even formulate the question? Probably not, right? But if we’re watching our children, we can see on their face, you can see them kind of go…or we can ask them, you know, “What’s puzzling you? I see that you’re thinking about something, what is it?” You know, we have to have conversations with our children. We have to have conversations with our children.

Dr. Linnea: But I think it’s very interesting, the idea of practicing, like taking examples that happen even at home.

Sharon: Especially if you have a nervous child because sometimes the children stand on the periphery and watch things happen. They know they don’t like what they’re seeing, but they just don’t…they’re too timid or they don’t feel they have the right to step in, right? And what we’re saying here is, “Hey, when you see something that you can see another child sort of treating another child not nice, it’s okay for you to go in there and help. You can go in there and say, “What? When you say that, that’s really hurtful.” And to the other child, “Are you okay.” Right? So we foster that by talking about it and by role play basically.

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Written by Dr. Linnea Passaler

A surgeon and mom of a three, all currently under the age of five, Dr. Linnea is MamaDoctor's founder. She believes healthy virtual spaces where people can share their honest concerns and get help from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, change lives for the better. She is an advocate for maternal mental health and wellbeing.