The Power of Noticing: What does Kindness Looks Like?
Noticing is a specific skill that is often confused with judging. A common response to seeing a child being helpful is to say, “Good job” or “Thank you.” Looking more closely, however, you can see how these kinds of phrases are judgments about a child’s behavior, not a “noticing” of the behavior itself. Example: John helps his sister climb into the car seat. Mom responds, “Thank you, darling.” The implied message from Mom is that John has done the action for her, not for his sister. Susie taps her friend’s shoulder in the classroom, encouraging her to focus on the teacher. The teacher comments, “Good job, Susie.” The teacher’s implication is that Susie has measured up to standards. Noticing, on the other hand, requires a description of the child’s action. For children to develop kindness, they must know what it looks like, feels like, and sounds like. It must be labeled and described as it occurs; just as you label objects for a baby who is learning to speak: “Spoon. Mommy has a spoon. Here’s your spoon.”
The following points will help to notice the kind and helpful acts in children:
1. Adjust your language to the developmental stage of the child. Example: Under 3 years old: “You picked up your toy. That was helpful.” Notice how the kind action — picking up the toy — is described for the child. The praise is also kept brief so as to be easily grasped. 4 years and older: “John, you held your sister’s arm so she could crawl into her car seat and ride safely. That was helpful.” Here again, the action of the kindness is described, but an additional element is added — a description of how the action contributes to other: “… so she could crawl into her car seat to ride safely.” The teacher in the previous section might have praised Susie’s action similarly: “Susie, you tapped your friend’s shoulder so she knew it was time to listen to the story. That was helpful.”
2. Noticing describes the action, rather than judging it. By noticing helpful and kind acts in this way, we can achieve many developmental goals that lead children to embrace our most cherished values.
• Describing children’s actions helps children become conscious of what they are doing in the moment: “You picked up the toys” or “You said thank you and please.” This helps stimulate the development of the brain that are essential for problem solving.
• Stating how the action contributes to the welfare of others helps older children understand that they make a positive difference in the lives of others: “You picked up the toys so no one would fall;” “You said “thank you” so your friends knew you cared.”
• Adding a descriptive tag gives a name to these actions: “That was thoughtful”; “That was kind”; “That was helpful.” When we do this, we teach children exactly what these qualities look like, feel like, and sound like.
It is vital that we use moments of kindness to help children learn how their behavior contributes to the welfare of others.