We all want to see our kids sharing toys, caring for others and practising kindness.
But in reality, children – and especially toddlers – can be a little selfish, especially as the excitement about presents builds up in December.
So how can we help teach kids about the importance of caring for others, so it becomes second nature to them?
Well, this time of year can actually help that conversation along, according to Nicky Cox, special adviser to UNICEF, editor of First News and CEO of Fresh Start Media.
“Use the Christmas spirit to nurture your child’s caring nature so it sustains well after the decorations are put away,” she told HuffPost UK.
1. Help them become excited about giving.
Cox said Christmas is the season when kids rightly get excited about the presents they are going to receive and parents can help them become just as excited about ‘giving’ by including them in trips to buy gifts.
“This way, they are thinking about others and what might make them happy,” explained Cox.
“This will foster in them a sense of generosity towards other people and will encourage their empathy.
“This is a crucial building block for other caring emotions. The more easily our kids can put themselves in other people’s shoes and understand what they feel and experience, the more generous of spirit they will become.”
Adrian Bethune, primary school teacher, founder of wellbeing website Teachappy and author of ‘Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom’ said another way to build empathy is to encourage kids to give back to others who are less fortunate.
“For every present your child is likely to receive this Christmas can they choose a current toy/book/puzzle to give to someone less fortunate than themselves?” he asked.
“So six presents = six donations. They can be wrapped and placed in a large box and taken to a local hospital that has a children’s ward.
“Not only will the children be encouraged to reflect on others in need, but studies show that we receive more pleasure from giving gifts then receiving.
“Plus your home won’t be overrun with toys.”
2. Practise active kindness.
Bethune said his school has a “it’s cool to be kind” week where they actively encourage their children to create small acts of kindness.
They carry this out using Action for Happiness’ kindness advent calendar “to inspire children to think more about others and take action to be kinder.”
“One example that springs to mind includes a Year 6 boy who chose to do a reverse advent calendar for others in need this Christmas,” he said.
Bethune said this is something parents could try at home with their children, giving them regular small tasks to complete that show kindness towards others.
3. Watch the language you use.
Cox explained there’s a subtlety in the language you use around your child, which can influence how your child feels about others.
A 1980 University of Toronto study by psychologists Joan Grusec and Erica Redler found that seven- and eight-year-olds were more likely to give away prizes they had won to others, if they had been described by an adult as “a nice and helpful person”, rather than told that giving the prizes away would be “a nice and helpful thing to do.”
Grusec explained, as part of his study: “It works to tell children that they have a particular kind of personality – which then promotes similar behaviour in other similar situations – rather than just to focus on an isolated act.”
4. Remind children not everyone can celebrate Christmas.
Kids can get so caught up in everything they are doing in December – the parties, presents, food and family time – that they don’t stop to think about others who aren’t as lucky.
“Others might be homeless, refugees, or living in poverty,” said Cox. “Tell your children that people having a difficult time might be closer than they think. Perhaps someone in their class?
“At First News we include stories to encourage children’s sensitive and giving natures, like our current front page [below]. While other children are putting toys, games and gadgets on their Christmas lists, a boy just like them, called Louis, has written to Santa asking for a home for Christmas.”
Cox added: “Ask children how that makes them feel and what ways they can think of to support children like Louis. And, how can they help children in other countries who are having a hard time.”
5. Be a good role model.
Children mimic the behaviour of people around them.
“The best thing you can do is demonstrate kindness and compassion, and self compassion with children as much as possible,” said Bernadette Russell, author of ‘The Little Book of Kindness’.
“But what is also essential is fun! Humour and mischief are the way to make kindness fun. All kids (big and small) want to believe in magic, and kindness is practical magic – an action changing the way someone feels. Often the most unkind children have not had enough love. Demonstrate love, fun and silliness together.”
Cox added: “Remember that the most powerful tool you have is you. Be a good role model for your children. So many studies have shown that children are more likely to care and share if they see you doing the same.”
To help the children of Syria this winter please donate to the HuffPost UK Christmas Appeal at unicef.uk/huffpost.