It’s hard to say what your baby’s personality will be like as she grows up - it’s probably a pretty safe bet that dropping things on the floor won’t be her favorite activity forever, but it’s also hard to say what she’s going to replace it with. So whether your baby moves into a dinosaur phase next or discovers exactly how fascinating dress-up can be, one of the things most parents find themselves hoping for is that she will be a nice person - at the very least, a little niceness will make her teen years significantly easier on you.
Kindness doesn’t come out of nowhere, though. Just like how if you want your baby to be able to read, someone is probably going to have to teach her, or at least give her the tools to teach herself, the best way to help foster your baby's future kindness is to help her work toward it.
Babies aren’t born understanding how to treat others the way they want to be treated - in fact, for a significant chunk of their first year of life, they’re not totally sure they’re individuals who are separate from their parents, and without an understanding of what other people are, it’s tricky for your baby to have any conception of their feelings. Even after she starts to differentiate herself from her favorite people in the world, she doesn’t start out with an understanding of her own feelings, let alone what effect she might have on anyone else. When she does start to understand other people’s feelings, though, and either react to them or not, one of the biggest ingredients that goes into the way she acts is the example you set. Just like when she is learning to talk and learning to walk, when it comes to being nice, the first things your baby learns will come from you.
This means, for example, that if you listen patiently when she talks about her interests and concerns, even when she doesn’t have actual words to express them yet, she is more likely to grow into a good listener than if you didn’t. And if she doesn’t, you’ll have a strong foundation to speak from when you have a conversation about respecting the thoughts and opinions of others.
Before your baby can be considerate of the feelings of others, she has to start to figure out how to identify and deal with her own. Try to identify when your baby is frustrated or sad or upset, and talk it through with her. This starts to give her the vocabulary to talk about feelings herself. You’ll also help her start to work out how to deal with negative emotions without taking them out on others, as well as to set up the building blocks for empathy for others who are feeling the same way.
The Making Caring Common project is an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and it's centered around trying to promote kindness in children. They use information from the National Center for Education Statistics to assert that American children are more likely to feel like success is valued by their parents than kindness, and that 80% of them also value success more highly than kindness. The Making Caring Common project advocates putting more importance on kindness when talking to young children as a way of helping to shape their priorities in a more considerate and empathetic direction.
Talking to children about kindness probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a wild Saturday night, but it also doesn’t have to be dry or difficult for you or your baby. Early conversations about kindness can be as simple and fun as a few extra words here and there about which characters are being nice to each other in your baby’s favorite picture book. The world would be a better place if everybody was kind to each other, and it starts with your baby.