Tonight, after a long Monday, I sat on the couch and mindlessly scrolled through my social media accounts to see the happenings of the day. The girls were asleep, dishes washed from dinner, the bathroom cleaned after baths, lunches made for the next day… I was done adulting!
Then, I came across a link… “If you watch anything today, let it be this.”
Ok, you got my attention. It was a video clip of an audition from American Idol. Probably just someone with a great voice, who nailed their audition! Except, within 30 seconds of watching, tears were rolling down my face.
This beautiful young lady, 19 years old, talked about how after learning she had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and was gaining a lot of weight, she had lost her way and became isolated, until she met a boy with down syndrome who changed her life.
Marcus, her best friend, helped her back on her feet, led her to a path of music and teaching people with disabilities. What really got to me was when she said that she really needed a friend and he looked like he could use one too. Well, so much for mindless activity because now my mind was running wild!
Don’t we all just need a friend?
I can recall when I first moved to New Jersey. I was born and raised in New York, all of my friends were in NY, as well as my family. After meeting and marrying my husband, who was from NJ, we decided it was the right place for us to start our lives together. Except for the fact that I felt completely alone. I was starting a new life as a wife and a teacher, but I had no one, except my husband, to lean on for support. It was really hard. We all need friends to talk to and look to for support, we are, after all, social animals.
So, this had me thinking. I remember how that solitude felt my first year living in NJ. If it wasn’t for my husband, I would have run right back to NY, to my comfort zone.
I remember starting a new job and living in a new city and not having anyone to talk to all day besides my students. No one to laugh with, no one to turn to for advice or unload on when I was overwhelmed. It was lonely and depressing.
So, what about those poor kids who feel isolated every day? The kids that I see walking the halls alone, sitting by themselves at lunch, the kids that barely crack a smile all day. My heart aches for those kids. But, what is worse, all the other people around them that let it happen.
I try to teach my daughter to be an upstander, not a bystander.
I love when I observe her at the park making new friends, or asking the kid who is not playing with anyone to join her games. I try to teach her how unkind it is to leave someone out because it hurts to be left alone and feel as though no one cares enough to talk with you or ask you to play.
No one should have to go through their day sitting alone, with no one to talk to, smile with or laugh with. We all need a friend! But, that has to be a mentality that our children grow up with. If we raise kind children, they will grow into kind adults, and this world can certainly use more kindness. So how can we help our children learn kindness?
Be a Role Model
As I discussed in my last article, you have to practice what you preach. It is not enough to tell your children “be nice,” or “you have to play with so and so.” If your children hear you speaking negatively of others, or see you being exclusive, they will assume that is the proper way to behave.
Our children see and hear everything we do in their presence, even when we don’t realize it. So, if you want your children to be kind, you have to be kind and teach them the ways.
Allow Time for Practice
Since I am a teacher, I have the luxury of spending the summer (well, some of it) with my children. However, it can be tricky keeping them occupied every day. Therefore, my older daughter and I decided that each summer we would take on a project. When we started doing this, she was only three, so the projects were small, like build a birdhouse, or clean up the garden. However, in the last two years, we started evolving this project into one that would benefit our community.
Last year, my daughter and I had heard about the Kindness Rocks Project , a great organization that cultivates kindness by spreading messages through rock art. Since my daughter loves art, we gathered over 20 rocks that summer, painted them, adorned them with encouraging messages and spread them through the neighborhood.
It was tons of fun for us both, and the best part, when the neighbors realized she was the one leaving all the rocks, she gained instant friends.
Spreading kindness, watching people smile as a result of your random acts, is a wonderful feeling, one that will hopefully stick with my daughter for a lifetime.
Knowledge is Power
Inform your children! Talk to them about how it feels when someone is unkind. Talk to them about why is it important to be a good person and how our words and our actions affect everyone around us. When I get home from work and I ask my daughter how her day was, I usually get the same old, “fine, nothing exciting.” So, I start to prod, I ask questions…“What was your favorite part of the day? What did you learn? What made you smile? What made you sad?”
Those last two questions are the most telling. Sometimes, nothing has happened to make her sad, which is great. But, the times when something has occurred, I use them as a teachable moment. I talk her through the situation and make sure she is okay, first and foremost, but then I turn it around on her. I tell her to hold on to those moments and not forget them because the moment we forget how unkindness feels, is the moment we forget how to be kind.
This is a concept I have carried over from my career. As a teacher, we are taught to be consistent in our classrooms. Children need rules and routine, this helps them to know what is expected of them. If the rules are different every day, or from one situation to the next, than it’s like a free-for-all, they don’t know what to expect, so they constantly test the waters.
The same goes for a household. If you tell your child one day that they cannot watch a certain show, but allow them to watch it the next day, than your rules carry no weight. The same can be said for how they behave and treat people. The first time my daughter told me she hated me, I was dumbfounded. I let her stomp off to her room and slam the door. I had to stop and think about how I was going to handle this before I reacted.
Finally, after about 20 minutes, after we had both cooled off, I calmly walked into her room and sat on her bed. I told her that her words hurt my heart and asked if that’s what she wanted to accomplish. She started to cry and say, “No mommy, I’m sorry, I was just mad and frustrated.”
So I responded by telling her it is okay to get frustrated, but it is not okay to use that frustration to hurt someone else. We talked about how words sting and stick with people, especially if we never confront them and resolve it. She learned that if I would never have talked with her about it, I could have went on thinking that she hated me and how that would have affected me.
We now have a rule that when you are mad or frustrated, you have to stop, take a deep breath and count to 10 before you’re allowed to respond because yelling and using hurtful words is not allowed in our house.
Give Them Responsibility
Children need to understand that to be successful, you need to work hard. Since age four, my older daughter has had a chore chart, relative to her abilities. She has to get herself ready in the morning, brush her teeth, do homework, help set the table, and clean up after herself. If she doesn’t maintain this, than she doesn’t get rewarded with treats or toys, or whatever it is she’ll inevitably ask for when we make our weekly Target run.
Now, what does this have to do with kindness? Here is how I connect the two…Before we started doing chores, I would notice that when I allowed her to get a toy at the store, she started expecting it, she would casually grab something, expect that I would buy it and show no gratitude when it was purchased. Now, this is still a work in progress, but the change is noticeable.
She knows she has to maintain her chores to earn rewards at the end of the week. So, when we are in the store on the weekend, she will more carefully make a choice, ask permission, and proudly present it to the cashier. To whom, she will smile, ask politely if she can have her own bag, than thank both the cashier and her dad and I. Now, that’s more like it!
Raising kind children is hard work, but if we want to live in a world where people have mutual respect, admiration, and empathy, than it is so important that we instill these values in our children. Start young, model often, and keep trying!
One day, you’ll be amazed and proud to see the kind, smart choices your children are making. In the end, we are setting them up to be successful adults who will one day run the world with kindness.