How Do You Know? Recognizing and Teaching Kindness

How Do You Know? Recognizing and Teaching Kindness

How do you know anything? Did you know World Kindness Day is November 13, 2012? When did you first recognize an act of kindness? Do you remember?

The Challenge
More than one person has told me that some special needs children and adults do not realize when others are mean to them. Others may recognize someone is mean, but they may believe this is just the way the world is and they are powerless to change it.

So how do we convince them that they matter? Can we teach them to recognize kindness, to expect it, and to be kind in return? And how do we do this when even those in positions of power experience abuse or are sometimes cruel?

We saw it happen to President Obama when Ann Coulter used a very poor choice of words to insult him after the last presidential debate. More extreme examples of cruelty were in the news recently about teenagers in New Jersey and Colorado who murdered young girls. We all know people say things we find offensive, so how do we teach our children to be better and to expect others to be better to them?

Ways to Teach Children How to Recognize and Expect Kindness

1. Set Good Examples
Model kind behavior by treating others with respect. Avoid saying mean things when someone cuts you off while you are driving. Hold the door open for that mom with the stroller. Thank your waiters. Avoid repeating gossip about relatives, friends and acquaintances. Share fruit off your tree or vegetables from your garden with your neighbors. Volunteer at a shelter. I’m sure you can think of other ways to set a good example.

2. Use Visual Aids
Visual aids can help make the importance of kindness easier to understand. You might use a chart with a sticker system for younger children. I came across an excellent blog post at Nourishing Journey about using an empty jar. Stephani suggested adding a single bean for every kind act and removing two for acts of cruelty. You could use a small tangible reward for when the jar is full, like a pizza party for the class or a trip to a favorite place for a family.

3. Involve the Professionals

  • Ask your child’s social skills coach to role-play good and bad behavior.
  • Get your child’s teacher to try using a kindness jar and offer to pay for the pizza party or another acceptable reward for the class.
  • Find a police officer or a firefighter or another appropriate role model to talk to the class about why kind acts matter and what can go wrong when you are mean.

4. Keep the Discussions Going at Home

  • Reinforce things they learn about kindness.
  • Continue to thank them when they do the right thing and continue to set that good example.
  • Read books together about people who have made a difference in the world through their kindness to others.
  • Watch inspiring movies together and discuss them afterwards.
  • Make a game out of catching people being good.

How Do We Stop the Ann Coulter’s of the World?
The sad truth is we might not change her, but I believe if enough people keep speaking out with kindness, the world will change.

I love the way John Franklin Stephens responded to her, “I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

I think we all need to follow John’s example and continue to educate the Ann Coulter’s of the world. Use his example when you talk to your kids. Maybe one day we will get through to everyone.


“Teaching Social Skills with a Kindness Jar.” Nourishing Journey. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <>.

“An Open Letter to Ann Coulter.” The World of Special Olympics. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <>.