Apr 27

How To Get Kids Hooked On Kindness Over Praise

by Meghan Fitzgerald

We love to find ways to pay it forward as a family. We don’t do it all the time, and plenty (and, I mean plenty) of “me,” “my” and “mine”s fly around our house—such is life with kids under 7. But, every so often, we take time to think of ways to teach the kids kindness through something we can do to surprise, delight or make others feel special. When we do, it seems to captivate the kids and activate all of our best selves. 

Specifically, we focus on acts of kindness that happen anonymously—with no expectations of credit or praise. Making and delivering May Day baskets, which my kids do every year, is a great example we can look to for inspiration all year round.

Children have countless opportunities to act for the reward of adult adulation and praise. But there are not many chances for them to act simply for the satisfaction of knowing that they brought joy to someone else. I love that about random acts of kindness—they get kids hooked on the intrinsic value of kindness, not the extrinsic need for praise. 

When my oldest was just under 2, I was introduced to May Day baskets by a colleague. I wasn't sure she would get anything out of it, but we made and delivered a few baskets, and she seemed to love the entire process. After that, we were hooked, and it’s become a tradition. 


In the last days of every April, we search for a new and easy way to make a hanging basket out of the stuff lying around the house. We also make a list of five to 10 local friends and neighbors who might love or need a joyful surprise. As we are planning and preparing, we ask our girls how they think friends will feel when they see their May Day baskets. This opportunity to think of the impact of our actions on another person’s feelings is a great way to foster empathy.

Early in the morning on May Day (May 1st), we fill the baskets with spring flowers and leave one on each friend’s doorstep. We are quite sneaky in our deliveries, careful not to be detected. 

Although I have no doubt our recipients know who to credit, the kids believe that they have no idea. That is, quite possibly, the best part of the whole endeavor: Not only is there just something marvelous to kids about the chance to sneak, but there is also real value in remaining anonymous. The 14th Dalai Lama is credited with saying, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

And, there is great research to show us that even kids under 2 feel happiness when they give to others. 

In today’s world, I know many of us could use a greater sense of inner happiness and peace. So, cheers to finding ways to pay it forward with our young ones! Here are a few of our easy favorite random acts of kindness, you can try any time of year.

  • Turn rocks or acorns into smiles you can spread around your neighborhood.
  • Grab some gloves and a trash bag and pick up some litter early in the morning, when there are few people in your local park.
  • Fill the bird feeder or make your own, then sit and watch the birds (or the squirrels, in our case) benefit from your efforts.
  • Spend the afternoon making a small nature display, then leave it so other park goers can see, delight in and even add to it.


Meghan Fitzgerald


After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, I have my dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including my own, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, I worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. I earned a BA with majors in English and Developmental Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. My worldview is formed in response to my environment, culture, family, identity and experiences. What I write in this blog will inevitably betray the blind spots I have as a result—we all have them! Please reach out if there are other perspectives or world views I could consider in anything I write about. I welcome the chance to learn and update any pieces to broaden our shared perspective!

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