I still remember the shock on the teacher’s face. I was sitting in a chair that was too small for me but just right for my third grader. The teacher was busy telling me about my child’s grades and goals when I stopped her and asked if my child was kind. She raised her eyebrows and shook her head slightly, trying to make sense of the abrupt shift I’d just made in the conversation.

“I know that grades are important,” I told her. “I used to be a teacher. But I can see the grades. I watch how he does his homework and where he struggles. Grades matter, but it’s more important to me that my son is a kind person who contributes to society.”

This wasn’t some attempt to hear how wonderful my son was. This was my attempt to focus on what was most important to me. I knew that a dusty report card line item of “Plays well with others,” which had been on the report cards since I was a kid, didn’t tell the whole story. I wanted to make sure my son was exhibiting kindness in the classroom. And that he was on the receiving end sometimes, too.

It's been years since that conversation, but it still stands out in my mind. If we want our kids to be kind, we need to focus on kindness.

A study from the Making Caring Common project at Harvard reported that 80% of kids in the study said their parents were focused on the child’s achievement and happiness over how they cared for others.

We may know that we want our kids to be kind, but that’s not the message they’re getting. If we truly want kind kids, we need to be intentional about teaching them to be kind.

Here are five simple ways you can teach your kids that kindness matters:

1. Model Kindness

Kids are sponges. They seem to observe and take in everything they see, the good and the bad. If you want your kids to be kind, you need to remember that your kids are watching you. They see how you treat the cashier at the store. They notice how you respond to someone on the phone when things don’t go your way. They see how you treat your family and strangers. Consider what you are modeling for them.

Be intentional about modeling kindness. It provides a foundation for building a lifestyle of kindness in your family.

2. Use Words

Kindness is exhibited in the things we do and say. But sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say. Kids, in particular, need help to build a vocabulary of kindness. You can start by teaching your kids how to compliment people. Show them how to observe others and offer compliments that make the person feel seen and cared for. “You’re really good at making cookies!” or “Wow! Your smile brightened my day!” are simple examples of things we can say that make a difference.

3. Teach Manners

Manners are often one of the first ways kids learn kindness. With simple phrases like please, thank you, I’m sorry, and I forgive you, they can show respect to others. Even teaching kids to look people in the eye to say hello and goodbye is an important kindness life skill.

4. Encourage Kind Behavior

When you see kind behavior, say something. Tell your child how proud you are that they were kind to the librarian or that you liked how they made sure to stop playing and say hello to Grandma when she came over. By recognizing kind behavior, you are teaching your child that kindness has value.

Be cautious, however, about going overboard with praise. Kind, respectful behavior should be the norm. Identify examples of kindness and move on. Don’t be tempted to have a celebration every time your child remembers to say please. It’s all about teaching them to become kind people for a lifetime.

5. Explore Empathy

As we grow, we can learn to go deeper with our kind words. Learning how to handle hard situations and offer empathy gives kids the chance to take kindness to the next level.

Being kind to people on a surface level can be easy. Teach kids the value of showing kindness to someone who is struggling or a person who is in a different situation than they are. For example, encouraging your child to play with a new student at recess is great. Help them understand how others are feeling and offer kindness in those situations.

As kids grow in kindness, they become people who are more likely to extend compassion toward those who are struggling or even those who are different from them. This helps all of us foster a more accepting, kind world.