There are few things that will make you prouder as a mom than seeing your child be kind. Whether it’s to their sibling, to their friend, or to a total stranger, witnessing your child demonstrate the compassion, generosity, and empathy you’ve hoped to instill in them can make your heart swell even more than when they get straight As or hit a home run in the big game.
But there are few things that are more crushing as a mom than seeing your child face unkindness. It makes you feel powerless, incapable of shielding them from the unfortunate but inevitable realities of living in the world. We spend so much energy teaching them their ABCs and how to tie their shoes. We teach them how to cross the street and how to be polite at the dinner table. But how do we teach them what to do when someone is inconsiderate or just plain mean to them?
Like most parents, these are questions we’ve both grappled with – when our children were young and as they’ve grown into strong, successful women. It never gets easier, but just as our children learn over time, so do we as parents. So here are a few things these two moms have figured out about raising children who are kind – and what to do when they are faced with unkindness themselves.
1. Teach your child to not just be sympathetic but to be empathetic. There is no easier way to figure out how to treat someone else than to imagine how you would want to be treated yourself – they call it the Golden Rule for a reason! And while imagining how the circumstances of another person’s life might cause them to behave unkindly doesn’t excuse those actions, it can help to lessen their sting.
2. Teach your child to ask for help when they need it. We rightly focus on raising our children to be independent and self-sufficient, but part of growing into a strong adult is learning when to admit you need help and being brave enough to ask for it. Our children need to know that it’s not weakness to admit that they need helping navigating a situation, handling a bully, or coping with the impact of meanness.
3. Teach your child that being kind to others has to start by being kind to themselves. We’re able to best take care of other people when we’re healthy and stable ourselves. Helping our children understand that reality – and equipping them with practical tools to support their own well-being – is critical. It’s also a lesson that we, as moms, have to model for them.
There is no magic formula to raising kind children. Nor is there any easy toolkit we can provide them when they are faced with someone else’s cruelty. But as parents, we can help them understand that there are a million reasons, and a million ways, to be kind.
Tune in to Facebook.com/TODAYParents this Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. ET for a Kindness Conversation co-hosted by the TODAY Parenting Team and the Born This Way Foundation, with Cynthia Germanotta, mother of Lady Gaga, and Natalie Hawkins, mother of Olympian Gabby Douglas. These two inspiring moms will share their personal experiences with raising kind children and helping children cope when they have experienced unkindness.