While teaching kindergarten for 12 years, I was often asked "Would you prefer your incoming students know their letters and sounds OR would you prefer them to be kind and compassionate?"

Hands down, my answer was always... "KIND AND COMPASSIONATE!"

With over twenty years of combined experience working with children in and out of the classroom (and two college degrees focusing on early childhood education), I felt very well-prepared to address the wide range of academic abilities my students possessed; it was the lack of certain soft skills that always seemed to make my job much more difficult than it needed to be.

While teachers are trained to differentiate their instruction through small-group lessons and whole-group participation, soft skills related to kindness, compassion and empathy are developed over time as children observe the adult role models in their lives such as parents and teachers, grandparents and coaches. 

Whether you have children of your own or work with children in a classroom/on the field, here are 10 acts of kindness you can be more INTENTIONAL about performing so the children around you will be more intentional about performing them, too!

1) Smile:)

Common sense tells us smiling is contagious, but so too does scientific research. Remind your child(ren) to smile at others, especially those who look like they're having a rough day as they need a dose of kindness the most.

    2) Hold the door (or elevator) open for others.

    Children are EXTREMELY impulsive in lots of ways; walking through a doorway is no exception. Encourage your child(ren) to be the "Door Helper," holding it open for others instead of rushing in front of them. Try this when entering elevators too, reminding children it's proper "Elevator Etiquette" to let people out of the elevator BEFORE they trying going in.

    3) Say "Bless you" or "Gesundheit" when someone sneezes. 

    At the end of the day, EVERYONE wants to be "heard." Sometimes, my kids will even fake sneezing just to hear someone acknowledge their existence.

    Not only is this is a polite way to let others around you know you're listening, it's a nice way to wish someone good health as well.

    4) Pick up litter.

    One of the BEST skills you can teach a child is how to be observant. In fact, you can't be a servant UNLESS you're observant!

    When you notice trash on the ground, bend over to pick it up, saying "Can you believe someone threw this on the ground? It belongs in the trash!"

    Before you know it, your children will not only be doing this themselves, but they'll be more conscious about throwing away their own trash, too. (Just be sure to remind children not to pick up broken glass or other dangerous looking objects; washing hands afterwards is always a good idea, too:)

    5) Don't interrupt others when they're speaking. 

    As adults, we can be as impulsive as children sometimes... especially when we have something we're dying to say! Model patience, however, by biting your tongue until the person you're speaking with is finished.

    Helping children who struggle to do the same, teach youngsters to quietly place their hand on your elbow, signifying they need your attention.

    When able to address the child's need for your attention, make eye-contact with him/her signifying you're ready to listen. (The trick here is to NOT wait too long; again, kids are extremely impatient. If your child is one of them or you're just starting out with this strategy, ask the person you're speaking with to hold on for a second, then address your child's need as doing so is just another way to model politeness).

    6) Require children to say, "May I please..."

    Often times, I feel like my children are barking out orders at me - "Mom, I need this!" or "Mom, I want that!"

    My husband likes to tell them to ask for things the "right way," but I think that's a bit confusing, especially for the younger ones.

    Instead, tell your children to "Rephrase that as a question, please!" I don't know why this works, but it does! (Even with younger children who don't even know what a question is:)

    7) Say "Thank you"... a  lot!

    Gratitude is probably one of the MOST difficult soft skills to teach a child, unless you're constantly modeling gratitude for them.

    The EASIEST way to accomplish this however, is by thanking children for saying "Thank you."

    No joke... literally saying, "Thank you for saying 'Thank you!'" inspires other children within earshot to do the same. Try it once; you'll see what I mean! 

    8) Say "I'm sorry"... a lot!

    NO one is perfect; we ALL make mistakes.

    The good news is... it's not always how you behave IN the moment, but how you behave AFTER the moment.

    The next time you blow up at your children (and we ALL do!), be SUPER quick to say "I'm sorry... that was wrong... I shouldn't have yelled at you... I'll try harder to tame my tongue next time." Admitting your own mistakes makes it easier for kids to admit theirs too, so be sure to say "I'm sorry" as quickly, sincerely, and often as possible.

    9) Ask, "Are you ok?!?"

    Last winter, my family and I were walking through an open air mall when a pizza delivery man slipped and fell on some ice, hitting his head so hard it gave ME a headache. Immediately, I said "Oh my goodness! Are you ok?!?"

    The very next day, I heard my daughter, Harper (6) say the exact same thing to her brother, Frank (4) after she accidentally hit him in the head with the broom she was twirling around like a baton.

    Asking someone if (s)he is "ok" is important when the person has hurt him/herself, but even more important if you were the cause of the person's injury, regardless of whether the person's injury was the result of something you did on purpose OR by accident.  

    In fact, saying "I'm sorry" VERY QUICKLY after an accident is the BEST way to let the other person know you didn't mean to hurt him/her which, more often than not, is the key to keeping the situation from escalating into an even bigger problem, especially with the little ones.

    10) Say, "I forgive you"... NEVER "It's ok."

    Forgiveness is the ultimate form of compassion; giving it AND receiving it is what enables people to move on.

    Saying "It's ok" misleads children, implying whatever behavior (s)he just exhibited was, in fact, "ok" when, most likely, it was NOT "ok." Avoid reinforcing your child (or anyone else's childs') negative behaviors by insisting children tell each other "I forgive you" instead.

    I can't tell you how many times my family has been out an about at a playground or park when something's happened and one child must apologize to another, but I can tell you this... I ALWAYS correct a child - mine or someone else's - when his/her response is "It's ok" and would encourage you to do the same; no point in missing an opportunity to help everyone involved move on:)

    I'd love to know what acts of kindness - intentional OR random - you and your family participate in; please share them in the comments below. Thanks!

    Beth Nowak is a former Kindergarten teacher and mother of two who wanted to make memories with her children while making a difference in her community. Helping other parents do the same, she left the classroom to create Giving Families' Good Mail Challenges... fun and easy, family-friendly giveback activities that can be completed anytime, anywhere using materials readily available in most homes. To learn more and join the family, visit GivingFamilies.com.