“No, no, no!” said the preschool teacher as she rushed over to a child threatening to hit a playmate. “It’s not kind to hit people,” she continued. “Use your words, not your hands, when you are frustrated.”
Managing misbehavior is a regular part of parenting and group dynamics. We often focus on correcting what children are doing wrong. But educator Sarah Gonser suggests that paying attention to when children get things right is also crucial. Her Conscious Discipline approach includes using a ‘Kindness Tree’ to help children recognize when they are acting in ways that build community.
Try out one of these versions with children to support your efforts to cultivate kindness in kids.
Simple Kindness Tree. Set up an artificial tree or place a multi-pronged tree branch in a stable jar or vase. Purchase or cut out paper hearts, punch a hole in each, and tie a string or yarn circle through the hole as a hanger. Encourage children to watch for people doing something kind, e.g., sharing, offering to help, using their words when upset, inviting someone to play with them. Invite them to hang a heart on the tree each time they witness an act of kindness. Notice together how the number of hearts grows each day.
Personalized Kindness Tree. Set up your tree and prepare hearts with an assigned color for each child and adult. Invite children to select the colored heart that corresponds to the person they observe acting kindly and hang it on the tree. Encourage them to intentionally practice kindness so their colors will go up every day. Also remind them to pay particular attention to others’ kindness so they can help make the tree as colorful as possible. Work together as a community to achieve 3-4 hearts per person each day or gathering.
Illustrated Kindness Tree. Set up your tree and prepare large white hearts. Place a container of markers or colored pencils near the tree. Invite children to draw pictures of the kind acts they witness before hanging the hearts on the tree. At the end of the day or group gathering, encourage children to check out the picture hearts for kindness ideas they can use in the future.
Paper Chain Kindness Tree. Set up a large tree and prepare hearts with holes punched in both sides. Cut short lengths of string or yarn that can be used to link the hearts to one another (or provide brads for connecting the hearts). Encourage children to add a heart to the chain whenever they notice someone acting kind. Set a goal for how many days (or group meetings) it will take to create a chain that is long enough to wrap the tree completely in hearts.
Many Kinds of Kindness Tree. Set up your tree and prepare a variety of shapes for hanging. Assign each shape a kindness ‘type’, e.g., helping, sharing, caring, using gentle touch. Invite children to select the shape that represents the act of kindness they have witnessed and add it to the tree. Notice together the variety of ways that everyone has been kind throughout the day or week. If one or more shapes has low representation, suggest that you all work together to do more of those kinds of actions.