Elements of a Confident Kid…Kindness
: of a sympathetic or helpful nature 1
It is said that at the root of kindness is compassion. Compassion has to do simultaneously with how we feel about and care for ourselves and how we feel about and care for one another. When you walk into another family’s house, there is typically a scent that is particular to that family. The members of the household are often unaware of the scent but you, as an outside visitor, can sense the new smell immediately. Similarly, there is a culture – a predominant set of feelings, expectations and assumptions – that are a unique signature of each family. Some families are intentional about the tone and make-up of this culture and others are not. Think of the families you know. Which ones have a culture of kindness? What do you think they do to engender this in their families? And how do their kids get along with others and in school? Now, consider what words might be used to describe the culture of your family. Would kindness be amongst those descriptors? Confident kids are also kind kids. They are easy to like and appreciate because they are accepting of others differences and they relate to others in ways that demonstrate caring and respect.
“He took my Nerf gun,” said one brother. “But he hit me with his toy,” said the other feeling justified in the actions that led to a crying, red-faced child. On any given day, children have the chance to practice playing out feelings of frustration, upset and anger often and certainly, how parents guide and coach children in expressing and managing those emotions can alter relationships from destructive and unhealthy to growthful and healthy. Similarly we feel love, caring and a desire for connection each day. Parents have the chance to guide and coach children toward expressions that have the power to engender a sense of well-being, empathy and confidence.
Some interesting research shaped by events that made headlines can shed some helpful light on our ability to reach out and be kind to others. There was a grisly murder that took place in New York back in 1964 that was closely examined because it was committed while a whole group of neighbors were watching.1 No one took action to help the victim. So studies emerged to understand the “bystander effect” and asked the question, “Are we hard-wired to look out for our own best interest and not intervene when others are in danger?” We know plenty of examples that conflict with that kind of hypothesis, one of the most obvious being military service, the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for a greater cause. Later studies were able to show that when individuals were among others that articulated, valued and expected compassion, they were quick to help others in need. The obvious conclusion is that our social environment contributes significantly to how we interact with others. Are we predominantly defensive or empathetic? If we cultivate kindness in our everyday existence in small ways as an expectation of family life, then we create the conditions in which children will inherently be kind.
A focus on kindness – creating the experience of kindness in family life – is one that enjoys the multiplier effect. Your investment in family caring is internalized and passed on by each family member who goes out into the world – school, workplace, community – and shares it with others. When my neighbors are kind, it impacts me and in turn, my whole family.
Renew your own resources. If you are feeling like you don’t have anything to give, then focus on renewal first. How can you be kind to yourself to renew your own resources? Maybe it means taking a quiet moment to breathe each morning or read something inspirational. Maybe a little time out on your own while your partner takes care of the kids could help renew your spirit. If you are hurting, find ways to express your sadness, disappointment or frustration constructively (journaling, talking with a counselor, walking in nature). Be kind to yourself so that you feel you are able to give generously to others.
Create everyday habits and routines of kindness. If we want to create the experience of kindness so that our children and all members of our family pass on the caring then what are small ways you can do it? Perhaps it means extending your patience and listening to the stories that your children want to tell you about their school days. Parents can create routines among family members to show kindness. When kids get home from school and have a snack together, it could be a time to practice listening to one another. In addition to promoting taking responsibility for each person’s own possessions and clean up, ask, “What are ways you can help your sister today?” Older siblings can be called upon as “leaders” to demonstrate how to act responsibly with younger siblings. Younger siblings can show how “big” they are getting by helping out their older siblings.
Cultivate gratefulness. We can combat a sense of entitlement by cultivating gratefulness. Researchers who study gratefulness in children and the authors of Making Grateful Kids claim it takes regular reflections on what we are grateful for and why we are grateful in order to help kids get into the habit of being thankful for the abundance in their lives. Here are some ideas:
- Pick one meal a week to highlight one family member and why you are grateful for them.
- Pick one family routine in which you talk about thankful thoughts each day. What happened that day you are grateful for? Breakfast? Dinner? Bedtime?
- Place a favorite framed photograph of your family or your home near an entrance/exit door. Touch it each time you come and go in appreciation of your family and environment.
- Take stock each season of your stuff. Go through your clothing, toys and other items – as you might with spring cleaning – and appreciate what you love, separate out what you don’t need, fold and bag kindly and give away to charity so that it can be reused.
Notice and appreciate. We are quick to observe and point out faults but how often do we point to actions that we appreciate? This is a worthy habit to develop and not only can contribute to each family member’s sense of well-being but also it can promote good choices and prevent problem behaviors. “I notice you took out the trash tonight and I know you were tired.” A partner needs to hear they are appreciated for their actions just as much as children do and each time, you will be modeling kindness.
Guide toward forgiving actions. There will be conflicts and angry words exchanged in families. But after the heat of the moment, how do you handle the resolution? A sincere apology can be an important step but often, action beyond words is needed. How can you model repairing harm by showing kindness to your partner after an intense disagreement? How can you guide your children to repair harm between one another? The best solutions always come from the ones with the problem so ask, “What can you do to help your sister feel better?” No matter the role in the situation, if there are hurt feelings between siblings, there is an opportunity for each to show kindness to the other but often some prompting from Mom or Dad is needed.
It’s empowering to think that we can choose the tone of our day and the culture of our family. On balance, if we focus on injecting kindness into our experience, it will shape our feelings about ourselves and how we connect with and interact with others. Next time your child says, “I’m having a bad day,” you might view it as an opportunity to turn it around by enacting a kindness together. You can count on the multiplier effect returning the kindness right back to you.
1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 4-14-15 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kind.
2. Judah, S. (2013). Making Time: Can We Teach Kindness. BBC News Magazine, October 3.
3. Froh, J.J., & Bono, G. (2014). Making Grateful Kids; The Science of Building Character. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.