Kindness is Cool
Would you say your child is kind? A cool kind of kind (is there any other kind?)? I’m sure we’d all like to think so, but we’ve also all had those moments where it’s, um, questionable.
Not too long ago, I received a phone call from another parent who said my son had pushed her daughter down on the playground and was laughing at her. Turns out she had confused my son with another boy (which she later apologized for), but I remember my shock and horror in getting this news, and thinking something along the lines of … NOT cool.
In fact, while the woman was giving me the play-by-play of the playground episode, I was already planning the talk with my son about just how UNcool it was. But I think what bothered me most was the idea that I had let him down — somehow already failed him in understanding this idea of kindness and compassion that we need to put out there. In life and on the playground. That it’s not just some warm and fuzzy mush talk, but actually a pretty cool way to live your life.
Of course, we’re living in a world that’s not always on the same page. And my kids, in particular, are just entering the tween phase, when hormones are raging, cliques are forming, and kids can be, well, just mean. They’re facing many of the same issues that all generations have faced, and some might argue even more so — like fitting in, coming face-to-face with a bully, and being judged or ridiculed for being “different.” It happens. And, as painful as it is, it happens to my child.
But this is not all bad, says Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., author of “The Awakened Family,” because kids have the capacity to learn and grow from it. “The key is to teach our children to stay in touch with their inner power and not feel defeated by how life presents itself to them. In doing so, we help them see that they have the ability to turn any situation into an opportunity for greater courage and adventure.”
A genuine smile, handshake, hug, compliment, good deed, or some random act of kindness is not only a nice thing to do, it’s a great pick-me-up.
We can’t always be there to protect our child from an unkind act or a mean-spirited word. (Bullying, however, is a serious issue, with potential serious consequences, that should be addressed.) But if they understand what it means — and why — to be kind, they will know a different kind of power. Where they’re not afraid to stand up and say, “NOT cool.” And this can help them cope.
Sometimes the best we parents can do is show them what kind looks like, and let them take it from there.
Recognize your own unkindness.
It doesn’t take a fit of road rage for kids to see what unkind looks like. Mine pick up on even the slightest hint of judgement or disdain, like when I’m heaving a big sigh at my husband (who usually bears the brunt of my unkindness). I remember, on a bad day, snapping back at a store clerk who made, what I perceived to be, a critical comment. Afterward, my five-year-old said to me, “Mommy, you sounded strange when you were talking to that lady.” Ouch.
Be kind daily.
A genuine smile, handshake, hug, compliment, good deed, or some random act of kindness is not only a nice thing to do, it’s a great pick-me-up. And your kids will pick up on the good vibes. Set out each morning to brighten at least one person’s day. When you meet people, look them in the eye and really see them. When you ask about someone’s day, stop and listen to the answer.
Do as I do, not as I say.
My mother-in-law used to say that kids learn to say “Please” and “Thank-you” by example, not by asking it of them. This totally irked me at the time, but she was totally right. No matter how many times I would tell them, they’d forget all manner of manners, usually right on cue at the friend’s birthday party with the prim and proper mother. Eventually I stopped asking and just said it myself (a teensy bit louder). Ok, and maybe with a tad more enunciation. They’re 8 and 10 now, and, yes, Grandma, they’re “Please-ing” and “Thank-you-ing” all over the place.
Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy. And how cool is that?
Focus on kind.
We’ve all said, in one form or another, “The most important thing is that my kid’s happy.” What if we said, “The most important thing is that my kid is kind?” Ask your teachers if your child is considerate and compassionate toward his peers, and if he’s a helpful part of the community.
Look for kind-talk opportunities.
Talk to your child about the kind and unkind things they see on T.V., especially if a “cool” character is the caring one. Point out acts of justice and injustice in the news. Ask open-ended questions. On our way to summer camp the other day (a camp my son was nervous about going to for the first time last summer), we had to pick up a friend who’s new to the camp this year. We spent the whole ride talking about what it felt like for my son, and how he could help make it easier for his friend on his first day.
When kids (heck, all of us) show gratitude, especially for the tiny, everyday things, they find themselves in a kinder position. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy. And how cool is that? Ask your child to tell you about one thing he’s grateful for each day, and do the same for him.
Raising a kind kid in an often unkind world doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an everyday process that comes with the job. It’s how we parents decide to show up and play our part. And to show our kids that it’s not only important to be kind, it’s actually pretty cool.
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