There’s no higher praise for most parents than being told they have a ‘nice kid’.
But how do you nurture ‘niceness’? Are you born with it, or can it be taught?
writes Dr Nicola Davies
Nice is a relative term and its meaning is different for each person, says Dr Susan
Newman, social psychologist and parenting expert.
‘Even mums and dads can vary on how they would define it,’ she explains. ‘But whatever
term you use, most parents want to raise children who are caring, thoughtful and
honest – all attributes that could be included in the definition of nice.’
For Nadine Tavener, mother to Nathan (seven) and Jared (three): ‘Nice is about good
manners and obedience. I am very proud of my kids saying please and thank you, and
listening to what I tell them. Some children can be very rude and offensive, so I
for others plays a big part in being nice too. Nathan is very introverted, which
some people can interpret as rude, but he is generally polite and considerate, especially
when he comes out of
Naughty and nice
‘Every person – young or old – has goodness and badness in them,’ says learning activist
James Simms. So, do children have the capacity to be naughty and nice at the same
time? ‘Of course,’ says Simms. ‘Doesn’t everyone? As the great writer Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn said: “The line between good and evil does not run through skin colours,
creeds or religions but through every human heart.” All of us have the capacity for
nice and for naughty, including children.’
‘One of the roles of the education system is to draw out the good part of children,’
he adds. ‘Education is currently failing to do that too often. Teachers need to provide
children with opportunities to be happy and to succeed.’
‘Children, like adults, are going to have days when their behaviour
isn’t exemplary,’ explains Dr Susan Newman. ‘Part of growing up for most children
involves testing parent’s limits. If a child is naughty on one day, it doesn’t take
away from their helpful, caring, and “nice’” traits that shine through most of the
‘When you add into that equation the huge assumptions made about how children should
behave, some are inevitably going to appear “naughty”,’ says James Simms. ‘Most of
the power in an adult/child relationship rests with the adult – and it’s the adult
who mustadjust. If you label children as “good” or “bad” you attribute the problem
to some entirely uncontrollable factor.’
One way that ‘niceness’ is often measured is by comparing children, especially siblings.
But this isn’t the best marker. Children can often become competitive with their
siblings, sometimes doubting their own importance and questioning themselves and
their place in the family. Siblings can also be rude to each other because there
is a question of leadership.
So it’s important to appreciate that the way your children behave around each other
doesn’t represent how they are in their everyday lives. Parents need to understand
what is causing contention amongst their children so they can establish a balance.
PEOPLE WE LOVE TO LIKE
Some people we like to like because they just seem so nice
The face of Harry Potter has an
innocent look and poised personality
that has always attracted the younger
generation. Despite such popularity,
he is a very down to earth person,
which makes him even more likeable.
As a child he was seen as
a shy, sweet little boy that
girls and mothers adored.
Tom Hanks and Philip Schofield
Perhaps the nicest of all!
Looking after No1
A sense of ‘self-first’ can also affect your child’s behaviour. While it varies between
children and age groups, this is an instinctual selfishness that we are all born
with. Children grow out of it with the encouragement and guidance of their parents,
who can help them to recognise that it is unkind to think only of themselves. They
can teach their children that helping others and considering other people’s interests
is as important as considering their own.
There are children who some people don’t seem to warm to and this is a difficult
situation for parents. Simms advises: ‘When you are faced with any individual, young
or old, whose behaviour or attitude or beliefs are disagreeable, ask yourself: what
would it take for me to behave like that in the same situation? Your answer may be
an indication of this individual’s experiences.
‘When children are “naughty”, “awkward” or “less likeable” try to
stop looking at the individual child and look at the context, including the availability
of learning, role models, opportunity, esteem, love, and security,’ he adds.
Nurturing nice kids
So, how can we nurture nice kids? Research suggests we should explicitly teach it.
Richard Weissbourd, Harvard psychologist, ran a project called Making Caring Common
which revealed that 4 in 5 young people claimed that their parents emphasised their
achievements or happiness more than caring for others. In order to raise nice kids,
parents do need to make caring and consideration a priority for their children and
provide them with opportunities to practice it.
Being a role model can help to nurture niceness. When parents are
kind to other people and show concern towards them, children will learn to be more
caring. There are many ways children can make themselves liked by others – even a
simple ‘thank you’ can make people feel warmer and more engaged with a child. Encourage
manners in your children that will make them more likeable and help
them become more confident about their own personality.
How nice is my child?
Complete our simple quiz to find out
1. People comment on my child’s good manners:
a) Almost every time we go out
b) When he has behaved well
c) No-one seems to comment on good manners any more
2. With siblings, my child is:
a) Very cooperative, encouraging and supportive
b) Generally plays nicely without quarrelling or fighting
c) Finds it challenging to play together for any length of time
3. In school, my child is:
a) The centre of attention in the class
b) Has a few good friends
c) Finds it hard to establish friendships
4. At the dinner table, my child is:
a) Well-mannered and sometimes helps to clear the table
b) Eats dinner and leaves the table without a fuss
c) Uses mealtimes as a time for confrontation
5. At a party, my child:
a) Has a good time and makes others laugh as well
b) Stays close by old friends and prefers not to reach out to new people
c) Doesn’t often go to parties yet
6. A new surrounding (like a new school) makes my child:
a) Excited and positive
b) Nervous at first before becoming more comfortable
c) Highly uncomfortable and ill at ease
7. I see my child as:
a) A well-behaved person
b) Adequately well-behaved but can be unruly at times
c) Not well-behaved and needing some help
8. My child is concerned about people, the environment and animals:
c) Not really
If you scored mostly a:
Your child is super nice! She is communicative, helpful and cares about others. She
can easily make friends and can adjust to new environments comfortably.
If you scored mostly b:
Your child is nice. You could encourage her to become more confident and considerate
of others, giving her advice on how to make more friends and how to treat friends
If you scored mostly c:
Your child could be more likeable and might need motivation and support to help her
achieve this. Help her by appreciating any efforts she makes, providing opportunities
to be nice to others, and using positive reinforcement to increase confidence. If
your child is experiencing any upheaval, for example a change of school or losing
friends, she might need some help in the form of brief counselling or play therapy.