"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." For thousands of years, parents have used this simple Bible verse, known as the Golden Rule, to teach their children compassion, empathy and kindheartedness. While a modern parent might reinforce the rule with a slightly less eloquent phrase -- perhaps something along the lines of, "How would you like it if your sister pulled YOUR hair?" -- the idea behind using the Golden Rule to teach children about morality remains as consistent as ever.
One of the simplest ways to teach your child about the Golden Rule is to break out the crayons. Help your child color pictures of people who are practicing empathy, kindness and helpfulness. However, don’t just hand your kiddo the box of crayons and walk away. Sit next to him and discuss what the people in the picture are doing: “Is this little boy helping his friend? Do you think his friend was happy that he had help?” Printable coloring pages can be found online (see Resources).
Another simple way to teach your child about the Golden Rule is through the use of storybooks. Reading stories such as "The Bernstein Bears and The Golden Rule," "The Golden Rule" or even classic fairy tales such as "The Three Little Pigs" can help your child understand the importance of treating others with kindness and respect. As you read through the story, stop periodically and discuss the characters' actions with your child to reinforce the "do unto others" concept.
Very young children are quite teachable and most love stickers. Therefore, reinforcing behavior using a sticker chart can be effective. Start by printing out a simple calendar template using word processing software or by going online (see Resources). Then, buy some stickers. Each time you catch your child doing something nice for someone else, being respectful, or helping out, reward him with a sticker. The sticker chart alone is often enough to motivate young children. However, you can take the activity a step further by rewarding your child with a prize once he completely fills up the chart. A note of caution, however: Children need to learn the altruism that underlies the Golden Rule, so don’t go overboard with prizes. You don’t want to buy him an extravagant toy. Rather, offer a simple trinket such as a storybook or coloring book once he has filled up his chart.
Lead By Example
A child’s parents are his biggest influence, hands down. If you want your child to learn how to treat others with kindness and respect, then you need to treat others with kindness and respect. One of the most effective ways to teach children the importance of helping others is through volunteer work. This can be challenging because small children often have the attention span of a goldfish and the energy of a new puppy. Choose an activity that will allow you to work side-by-side with your child and keep her under your close supervision. For instance, if you are involved with volunteer activities at your church, take your child along. Let her help you pack up a box of food for a homeless shelter or take her along on deliveries. You could even try to coordinate a volunteer activity especially for children, such as taking a small group of young children to sing Christmas carols to nursing home patients. The point is, if you want your child to learn to treat others with compassion, kindness and respect, let her see you practice what you’re preachin’.