“Hey Sweetie, where are you going?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
– Conversation between me and my FOUR YEAR OLD daughter as she puts her sunglasses on and flounces out of the room.
My twin daughters are four; and they are amazing, and adorable, and hilarious, and Lord help me, will one day be fourteen. And I am terrified. Both of my children are beautiful and smart (of course, look at their mother!) but I have one child in particular (perhaps the one from the above quote) who has a large dose of sass that I am just not sure what to do with most days. I love the movie Mean Girls, but I feel like my job as a parent is to keep her from becoming Regina George. Because what is hilarious coming from a four-year old is not-so-cute in a teenager.
So what can I do? In a world that is constantly sending messages to our kids that the things that are important in life are looks, and wealth, and success, and being popular, and (even more dangerously) being perfect, how do I even begin to raise children who have the values that I wish for them?
I think (and I have been mulling this over a lot lately) that the answer lies in prioritizing kindness. Starting as young as you can to teach kids that one of the greatest things a person can be is kind.
This world is crazy right now. The hatred and violence and negativity that is present every time we turn on the TV or read the news or scroll through our Facebook feeds is overwhelming- it’s suffocating. And I’m afraid that it might be too late for my generation (The Oregon Trailers) to fix it. I believe it is going to be up to our kids to clean up this mess. And preparing for that has to start early. Let’s start teaching our kids that how we treat people matters. That every person deserves basic respect and decency even when- especially when- they disagree with you. Let’s teach them that kindness is important.
By kindness, I want to be be clear I don’t mean just “being nice.” Kindness is not about stuffing your feelings down, but about finding healthy ways to express them. It is about learning how to argue without being cruel. It is about realizing that sometimes someone else’s needs are more pressing at that moment than your own. It is about learning that the things you say and do and even type anonymously are capable of wounding someone deeply, or bringing them joy.
As for practically how to do this- I’m still figuring it out myself, but here are some things we do in my family to help teach kindness (please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments!):
- Even when they are very young start using the word Kind. Use it instead of “nice.” Correct children by asking them to use their “kind words,” their “kind hands.”
- Catch your children being kind and praise them exuberantly. “Sharing that toy with your sister must have been hard for you, but it was so kind. Your kindness makes Mommy feel proud”
- Use the books that you read and the shows and movies that you watch be great examples of kindness. I personally think Daniel Tiger is one of the best shows for teaching emotional maturity to kids. As for books, there are tons of wonderful choices, but I particularly love the “Fill A Bucket” Series. The basic concept is that every person in the world has an invisible bucket that they carry around with them. When the bucket is full we feel happy, calm, patient, and friendly. When the bucket is empty we feel sad, angry, and frightened. The series sets up the idea that everyone has the power to be a Bucket Filler and that when you do something kind to fill someone else’s bucket, it fills yours as well. The books also have a strong anti-bullying message- they call it “bucket dipping.” Kids learn that when they say something mean or hurt someone, they dip into that person’s bucket, but that action also takes happiness out of their own bucket as well. Their website www.bucketfillers101.com also has a good amount of free resources to help you start conversations about kindness with your kids.
- Try to give your kids an opportunity to experience diversity. Let them meet people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and abilities and then…let them ask all the questions they want. This one can be scary for parents who are worried that their kids might offend someone, but in general if a question is asked from an honest place of trying to understand most people welcome the chance to educate them. And you never know when your kids will surprise you. For example, one of my daughters takes classes at Pro Martial Arts Lakewood and they have a Karate instructor there who only has one arm. The first day he taught class, he explained to the kids that just how some of them were born with blonde hair and some with brown hair, he was born with one arm. Then he opened up the floor for questions and after a couple of things like “Does it hurt?” the kids moved on to questions like “What do you eat on your Pizza.” Children are remarkably open, and when we give them the chance to meet people who are different, those differences can go from being taboo-something scary or something that we shouldn’t talk about, to being something cool and something to celebrate!
- Let your kids see you giving back to your community and give them opportunities to find joy in serving others as well. When you are going to a PTA meeting, or volunteering, or going to vote, tell your children what you are doing. Explain that it is everyone’s job to help others and that giving back to our neighbors is a blessing for us as well. Let them come if you can, Dallas has some amazing resources for finding volunteer opportunities for kids and youth. Check out Wee Volunteer and Little Stewpot Stewards for a few of my favorites. This summer, my friend who runs Pamper Lake Highlands and I worked together on organizing Camp Kindness to raise money for our non-profit organizations and allow the kids to do service projects as part of camp. Daily I have been overwhelmed by the kindness these children have shown and their beautiful hearts .
- Watch your words. This is a hard one for me and I have to catch myself daily but even in my phone conversations or when I think the kids aren’t listening I try to remember that they hear me talking about others and they will say what they hear me saying. I learned this first hand when I wondered why my kids always sighed dramatically whenever I asked them to clean up and then I caught myself sighing dramatically while doing the dishes. So I am mindful of what I say. I try to be an example of using kind words both about others and about myself.
So let’s get to work building a generation of kinder children! We may just find ourselves a whole lot more understanding and happier in the process.