I believe that if you can choose to be anything in life, then choose to be kind. Kindness is a sort of superpower, something that makes you invincible because nobody expects it, nobody knows how to handle it and nobody really knows how to retaliate. So “killing” someone with kindness has always been my go-to management strategy for almost any situation I find myself in.
Saying that I hope my kids grow up to be kind is an understatement
It is my heart’s desire that I will raise kids who are so kind that the world will never be able to pull them down. And I think so far I am succeeding.
For our last holiday, we went away to the Bushveld. My youngest obviously has sweet blood because the mosquitos just could get enough of her. After 2 nights of unsuccessfully using the natural, non-toxic mosquito repellent, I decided it was time to switch to the big guns. I rubbed her whole body with Peaceful Sleep, putting it on thickly.
Of course, being a child, she was curious as to why she was not allowed to scratch herself and then lick her fingers. When I said it is because it is poison to kill the mosquitos, and therefore bad for her, she started crying. The poor mosquitos were not allowed to be killed! They have caused her nights of scratching and crying and sitting up in misery, yet still I was not allowed to hurt them.
Same trip, different child – first-born has a habit of collecting insects. She believes no insect is beyond saving and will take care of them until they either rot or magically come back to life. She will show off these treasures to anyone who even remotely looks as if they are interested in her babbling on about wings and feet and antennae. If you just look in her general direction she will take that as an invitation to entertain you.
Both my kids understand that although things might be different, they still deserve to be cared for
And they take so much joy and pride in caring for things, whether that be an injured cricket or hugging a friend who is crying, they have a way to identify pain and weakness and try to put a bandage on it.
Isn’t kindness a weakness?
Of course not everyone will agree with me. Some will see this level of kindness as a weakness, something that can be exploited to their benefit, or just plain pathetic. I actually had this conversation with someone who used to be close to me – he was watching a series in which the main character just cannot say no, to anybody, so he ends up helping everybody. Most of the time to his own detriment, but never really causing his own unhappiness. This person described the main character as pathetic, and I wondered why? Shouldn’t we classify pathetic as something else?
We all deserve kindness
I listened to a conversation between Lady Gaga and Oprah, on Oprah’s Super Soul conversations podcast. They were talking about the Born this way movement and Oprah asked LG if she felt that people who have not yet admitted who they really are, and started living the life they were meant to, was living a fake life. LG replied no, they are not living a fake life. To them, it is reality, and they are in the process of taking small bites of kindness every day until they have enough kindness in them to make them brave enough to stand up, stand out, and be them. But until then there is nothing fake about them because that would be demeaning.
How beautiful to think that enough kindness can make you brave.
Self-love and self-care is actually a lesson in self-kindness
By raising kind kids you are also raising kids who value kindness towards themselves. Kids who realise that by having compassion and empathy for themselves they will grow much quicker, much further, than their counterparts who are forever berating and judging themselves. And that compassion and empathy will shine out towards others, giving them the super-power to connect deeply with others.
Kindness can make you healthier
A Harvard study found that when students where shown an act of kindness (Mother Teresa caring for poor people in Calcutta) the researchers found increased levels of serotonin in their saliva. Witnessing kindness also increases oxytocin, the hormone responsible for connection, lowers your blood pressure and increases your dopamine levels. In short, seeing someone else being kind enhances your mood and increases your motivation.
Someone very aptly said:
”From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”
They will be those kids who have meaningful friendships and rich lives
Isn’t that what we want for our kids? To live meaningful and satisfying lives? Then we need to raise our kids to be kind. It is important to remember that children are not born simply good or bad. It is our job as parents to help them become caring, respectful, and responsible members in their communities, and this must be done at every stage of their childhood.
How do you raise your kids to be kind?
Raising Kind Kids
by Dr. Robin Berman
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear…
You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
before you are six or seven or eight,
to hate all of the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
These words, written in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein, are still vital and relevant in 2020.
To teach our kids the opposite you can use some, or all, of the following strategies:
- Make caring for others a priority and identify kindness when you see it
Teach your kids to balance their needs with the needs of others, and to treat everybody with respect. Emphasise their concern for others over their achievements, praising them for doing something kind more than accomplishing full marks on a test. Ask your child how it makes them feel when you praise them, and how great it would be if they can make other people feel like that as well.
To teach them how to be kind, identify kindness when you see it. When you see people doing the right thing, such as being emphatic or considerate, then point it out to your kids. When your child engages in such behaviour, remember to specifically say why and how proud you are of them. Discuss kindness with them, focussing on what it is, what it looks like, and how you can show it to the world. Use everyday examples and ask your kids to finish made-up scenarios to give them protected practice.
- Practice self-love and stop the negative talk
Teach your kids to love themselves by showing them that you love who you are. You can demonstrate to them that taking care of yourself and loving yourself, flaws and all, does not make you selfish. By focussing on your own happiness you increase your ability to make other people happy. They will more likely than not see this in action as a happy parent usually have happy kids. This of course means paying special attention to the way you talk to and about yourself. Any negative self-talk, even something as innocent as jokingly referring to yourself as silly for forgetting something, can start to build a wall of negative self-image. And when we feel bad about ourselves it is increasingly difficult to do good for others.
- Adopt a pet – provide opportunities for your child to practice caring
Studies have shown that kids who has the responsibility to care for a pet have greater empathy. By giving your kids a pet you are providing them with opportunities to practice caring as well as gratitude. Children need to practice caring, somewhat similar to learning how to play an instrument or a sport. Daily repetition, such as helping to clear the table or remembering to feed a dog, make caring second nature and develops and hone a child’s caregiving muscle.
- Talk about empathy and expand your child’s circle of concern
Help your child to identify when someone is being treated unfairly, whether that is something they witness at school, in the neighbourhood or on the news. Talk to them about what it might feel like, as well as what they think should be done. If there was an incident of bad behaviour, such as your child witnessing road rage, you losing your cool or even them throwing a temper tantrum, discuss what triggered the bad behaviour.
Children need to develop concern for people who live different lives than they do, so teach your kids to be friendly and respectful to everyone regardless of age, race, culture or gender. Empower them to feel comfortable caring for those who are vulnerable by creating a “caring and courage zone” – a space where it is ok to comfort those who have been hurt, such as a classmate who was teased. And although you don’t want your child to grow up with a skewed picture of the world, that it is all negative and hardship, you also don’t want them to grow up blind to other’s challenges. So share stories of children suffering as well as how they are being helped. This will teach your kids compassion as well as strengthen their own feelings of gratitude.
- Actively listen and give them periods of undivided attention
Set-up times to check in with your child, during which time they will have your undivided attention. Practice rephrasing what your child says as a way of showing them that you are listening. You can also verbalise the feelings that you think they are feeling.
It is important to remember that your child doesn’t always need you to provide a solution to their problems. It is a great skill to teach them that by talking a situation through they are able to come up with the answers themselves. You can coach them during this conversation to ensure the solution is the kindest one possible.
- Broaden their world
Teach your kids to know that the world is made up of different people, and that they look different, speak different and believe differently. Different is not necessarily bad, and they must be able to respect these differences. If they do find themselves in a situation where their differences are pitted against another, they must be able to confidently defend or explain themselves without causing pain or divide. Being kind means being aware of differences, but not allowing them to dictate your feelings towards a person or an event.
- Own your mistakes
When you make a mistake, whether you realise it yourself or it is pointed out to you by someone else, you need to acknowledge that you were wrong. Accept that you might have caused pain and disappointment and sincerely apologise. That does not mean you do not have the right to discipline your kids. Kindness means respecting boundaries, and by creating boundaries you are also giving your kids the security to feel safe enough to make their own mistakes.
- Give them real responsibilities
At the heart of kindness lies a spirit of helpfulness. Stop yourself from raising entitled, ungrateful kids by ensuring that in your family, you don’t do all the giving and they all the taking. Raise kids who feel responsible for their own possessions, as well as respect for other people’s. Give them chores that they are not paid to do – they do them because they are contributing to the comfort and state of the house and family that they live in. This will help them to develop a greater concern for others.
- Teach them to identify, acknowledge and handle their own emotions
We need to teach our kids that there is no such thing as a good or bad feeling, rather that some ways of expressing or dealing with these feelings are not helpful or constructive. Children need your help to learn how to identify and then cope with these feelings in productive and non-destructive ways. Teach them how to calm down, how to calmly voice their anger, and how to be sad without being dramatic. Validate their feelings with simple phrases, but don’t support them in wallowing. Responding with compassion and understanding will help your child learn to recognise and value their own emotions, as well as others’ emotions.
- Be a good example
Children practice what we do, even if we want them to practice what we preach. They learn their ethical and moral values by watching the actions of the adults they respect and love. Being a good example means that we need to demonstrate honesty, fairness, and caring. Of course that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect all the time; it does mean that we have to say sorry when we overstep or handle ourselves badly. Show your kids compassion by being gentle with them as well as others when they make a mistake. Practice forgiveness.
Through interacting with your child warmly and sincerely you are allowing her to realise that she is a person who deserves to be loved and cared for, because she has a role model who shows her how to care about other people. You raise a child who feels confident about who she is and who feels comfortable in showing kindness towards others. All because of the loving relationship they have with you.
As Stephen Sondheim wisely warns:
Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell,
What do you leave to your kids when you’re dead?
Only whatever you put in their head.
- Use the language of kindness and insist on kindness in family interactions
Insist on kindness and respect in all family interactions, even the less-pleasant ones. Correct unkind and disrespectful behaviour immediately by kindly asking for a “re-do”. This will help convey that kindness is an important family value and is always expected, and reinforce the rule at all times.
- Teach them generosity
Demonstrate how to give back by volunteering, getting involved in community projects, or donating gentle-loved items to those needing them. There are valuable lessons to be learned from these actions such as seeing the bigger picture. This will also help to give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values. To develop a service routine by teaching them to serve others by volunteering, donating, giving their time and practising random acts of kindness.
Teaching your kids to be kind becomes second nature if you yourself is kind. And we owe it to ourselves as well as the world to be kind. So start practicing today.
Want to read more? Here are some of the best books on raising kind kids
Educational psychologist Michele Borba tackles what she calls a growing “empathy crisis” with her book “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” The book features actionable steps for raising emotionally intelligent, compassionate children
- How to Raise Kind Kids
“How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain” is developmental psychologist Thomas Lickona’s answer to the increasing divisions, bitterness and vitriol in today’s world.
- The Happy Kid Handbook
In “The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World,” licensed clinical social worker Katie Hurley shares strategies for raising empathetic, happy and resilient children.
- The Whole-Brain Child
Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel and psychotherapist Tina Payne Bryson wrote “The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” to guide parents in raising kids with compassion and helping them cultivate emotional intelligence, resilience and more.
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
In “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk,” educators and communication experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish teach parents how to respond to their children’s feelings and help them cultivate emotional intelligence and communication skills.
- The Kindness Advantage
“The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children” by clinical psychologist Dale Atkins and social worker Amanda Salzhauer shows how kindness not only makes the world a better place but also benefits those who practice it.
- The Parents We Mean To Be
In “The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development,” child and family psychologist Richard Weissbourd offers an alternative approach to raising happy, emotionally intelligent and fulfilled kids.
- Teaching Kids to Be Good People
Educator Annie Fox “Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century” features lessons about raising children who do good in the world.
- Simple Acts
Natalie Silverstein’s “Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back” offers practical advice for bringing up children who want to help others.
- The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children
“The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children: How To Raise Children Who Are Caring, Resilient, And Emotionally Strong” includes lessons for teaching kids to empathize with others.