Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship while building a foundation of trusting, loving attachment that will develop kindness and contribute to later success in school and life.
Kindness is the ability to act with generosity, care, and consideration. One-year-olds come to better understand themselves through their interactions with you and other caregivers. They are in the process of learning their strengths and limitations, why they feel the way they do, and how they relate to others. Kindness is learned through the trusting relationship you work to develop with your child. As you respond to your child’s needs, showing care and love, your child experiences your care as kindness and learns through your modeling. The steps below include specific, practical strategies to prepare you.
Children learn about who they are and how they relate to others through sensitive, caring interactions with you. These interactions impact their ability to learn about and manage their feelings and to trust in you as a caregiver. Focusing on kindness with your child will lay a critical foundation of trusting interactions.
Today, in the short term, focusing on kindness can create
- greater opportunities for connection, cooperation, and enjoyment;
- trust in each other; and
- a sense of wellbeing and motivation to engage.
Tomorrow, in the long term, focusing on kindness with your child
- develops a sense of safety, security, and a belief in self;
- builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your child grow skills in kindness. It also builds important critical life skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Getting to Know and Understand your Child’s Input
One-year-olds may use babbling, single words, and crying to communicate with you. Despite your child’s emerging ability to use words, you should continue to pay close attention to their facial expressions, movements, and sounds in order to work on understanding what they are trying to communicate. Your efforts to learn from your child build trust and create empathetic interactions that demonstrate kindness and let them know that you are interested in what they are thinking. In becoming sensitive to the small differences in your child’s verbal and nonverbal expressions, you
- show them that they can trust you to notice how they feel;
- let them know that you will help them to face challenges;
- deepen your ability to communicate with one another; and
- are modeling empathy.
- Each time your child expresses any big feeling, be sure and name it: “You seem angry” or “You seem happy.” This builds their feelings vocabulary and adds to their self-awareness and ability to manage their feelings. As you react to your child with kindness, they will feel a greater sense of your understanding and responsiveness and your interactions become more two-way instead of one-way.
- Simple questions and interactions can engage your child. Your child may respond with a few simple words, and they can respond with their eye contact, their facial expression, and their body movements.
- When reading books, look at the images of children or animals and guess the feelings. You could say, “I think the little bear is happy to see his friends. He has a smile on his face.”
- If your child is feeling unsure about how others are feeling — or buried in their own feelings — help them by sharing what you think others are feeling. You could say: “I wonder if she feels happy because her friend shared the toys. Do you think she feels happy?” Or, “I think that person might be feeling angry because their face is red and their eyebrows are scrunched up. Do you think they feel angry?”
- Practicing naming feelings will enable your child to identify their own feelings and to seek support when they need it.
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, there is a lot to learn about understanding your child’s rhythms, temperaments, and needs. Because of all this learning, you will make mistakes and even poor choices. How you handle those moments will help build your child’s sense of relationships and their ability to be kind. Offering yourself the grace and permission to not be perfect can ease your anxiety in responding to your child’s needs. Learning about developmental milestones can help you better understand what your child is going through.1
- 12-18-month-olds will respond to their name and may use 5 to 10 words. They are starting to combine words with gestures and starting to follow simple directions and remember recent events and actions. They may feel uneasy when separated from their loved ones.
- 18-24-month-olds can understand 10 times more than they can speak, are starting to respond to questions, can point to familiar objects and people in pictures, and are starting to follow two-step directions. They are also starting to want to try things on their own.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.
- Model kindness while interacting with your child. Modeling kindness can be one of the greatest teaching tools.
- Share the focus. As you spend time with your child, follow their lead. As they pick up new toys or explore a different part of the room, notice and name what they are exploring.2
- Notice gestures and listen for thought and feeling. Attempt to figure out what your child is trying to tell you through their sounds, gestures, and facial expressions. When they are expressing a feeling on their face or through their body, name it. “I noticed your face is red and your mouth is frowning. You look angry.”
- Children require your attention to thrive. So, why not build a special time into your routine when you are fully present to listen to what your child has to tell you? Turn off your phone. Set a timer if needed. Then, notice your body language. Ask yourself, “What is my body communicating, and how am I demonstrating that I am listening?”
- Talk to your child. Research confirms that talking to a child enhances their language development.3
- Talk clearly and slowly. Exaggerate your words for clarity and understanding. Don’t use “baby talk” which can be difficult to understand.
- Label what you see. “I see your sister is sharing her toys with you. That is kind of her.”
- Narrate your feelings. For example, you might say, “I baked some cookies for our friends down the street. I am excited to share them. Do you think we should walk over and give them the cookies?”
- Narrate your daily routines. As you prepare breakfast at home or go shopping together at the store, talk about what you are doing each step of the way. Involve your child by asking questions. For example, “We are volunteering in our community today. I like helping others, and I would love to take you with me. Does that sound good to you?”
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Develop Kindness, and Develop Habits
Your daily conversations can be opportunities for your child to practice new vital skills if you seize those chances. Each time your child works hard to practice kindness, they grow vital new brain connections that strengthen and eventually form habits.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy (a child’s sense that they can do a task or skill successfully). This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes are part of learning.
- Model warm greetings and be certain to introduce your child and facilitate a greeting with any new individuals. Share one thing you know or love about that person with your child to make a caring connection.
- When out in your community while running errands with your child, make introductions and involve your child in conversations with neighbors, the bank teller, or the grocery cashier.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like, “I noticed how you let your brother play with your toys. That is kind of you.”
- Read together. When you read stories together, you engage in an activity that can be deeply connecting for both of you. Reflect on the story and you’ll take the learning opportunity one step further. “I think it was kind of the bear to share his umbrella.” Involve your child in selecting the book, holding it, and turning the pages to build ownership and interest in reading.
- Many children are born with a cautious or shy temperament and they might not readily warm up to strangers and may show a fear of strangers. Respect that temperament by not forcing interaction and instead, model your own kind interactions with others.
Do not force physical interactions like hugs, high fives, or hand shakes between your child and other new individuals. Teach your child early that they can control their own physical space and are never obligated to make physical contact with another.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you are developing your child’s skills in kindness, and you are allowing them to practice. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed. By providing support, you are reinforcing their ability to be successful and helping them grow in their ability to show kindness.
- Learn about your child’s development. Each new age presents different challenges. Being informed about your child’s developmental milestones offers you empathy and patience.
- Don’t move on quickly if your child shows interest in a new person. Children often need more time to adjust with new individuals. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to warm up to the new person. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to gain relationship skills over time.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you gave me one of your toys to play with. I love seeing that.”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your child is scared of new people or situations, offer confidence in your child’s ability to face the new. In a gentle, comforting way, you can say, “Today we will meet some new people. I will be with you all the time. I like meeting new people.”
- Actively reflect on how your child is feeling when approaching challenges. You can offer reflections like:
- “You seem worried about going into this new store. I’ll hold you so you feel more confident.” Offering comfort when facing new situations can help your child gain a sense of security and face them rather than backing away.
- You can also offer comfort items to help your child face new challenges. “Would your bear help you feel better?”
Step 5. Recognize and Celebrate
There are so many amazing changes and developments to celebrate with your child. Each little achievement is something worth recognizing and celebrating.
Taking the time to recognize and celebrate can promote safe, secure, and nurturing relationships. It makes children feel secure and loved which helps their brains develop. It builds a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
Though it is easy to overlook, your attention is your child’s sweetest reward. Your recognition can go a long way in promoting more positive behaviors and expanding your child’s sense of competence. You can recognize and celebrate your child with the following actions.
- Smile at your child.
- Make eye contact.
- Use caring facial expressions.
- Be physically gentle and caring with your child.
- Use words to celebrate and encourage. Recognize and call out when all is going well. When your child is listening and following your instructions, call it out: “I notice you shared your blanket with your brother. I love seeing your kindness toward him.”
- Build celebrations into your everyday routines. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.
This year is filled with amazing changes — and not just for your child. Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your own development and milestones as a parent.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, and to work on their relationship skills.