An early-childhood expert reveals what parents should do to raise kind kids

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Dr. Tovah Klein, author of How Toddlers Thrive and Director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development, says that raising kind, thoughtful kids starts with the examples that parents set with their behavior.

"Children learn kindness and compassion from us," she said.

This is particularly important in tough moments. If a child is having a hard time and a parent berates them, it establishes a model that they're likely to emulate. If a parent responds patiently and empathetically, it sends a different message.

Kids don't just notice the way parents treat them. They also watch how parents interact with others.

mom child happy toddlerDonnie Ray Jones / Flickr

"If you're kind to the store clerk, if you're kind to the people in the restaurant, service people, in New York the doorman, whoever the people are who help us, your child learns this is how you treat people," said Dr. Klein.

Eventually, kids will learn to say "please" and hold doors not because parents tell them to, but because they begin mimicking their parents' actions.

"It's a great moment when you see your child being kind or polite or greeting people appropriately," she said. "Two and three and four year olds don't do that, but they get there eventually."

The occasional act of kindness can be a pleasant surprise to parents of toddlers, but Dr. Klein says it's perfectly normal for them to be selfish at that stage of development.

"Toddlers do have that in them, but they're also figuring out who they are, and that has to come first," she said.

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