“How do you teach your children to give back and to value kindness?”
I have been thinking on this topic for the last couple of days, and the more I ponder it, the more I realize that being kind is more than just being nice. I have one daughter at the moment and another babe on the way and I most certainly want them both to grow up to be kind, compassionate, giving individuals. Seeing that living by example is without a doubt one of life’s biggest teachers, this causes me to reflect on whether or not I am the “kind, compassionate, giving” individual that I would like to see my children become. My answer is “sometimes”, but I will get back to that.
When I think about kindness everything from the seemingly insignificant, to the extremely impactful, to the benefits, and the consequences come to mind. I think about common sayings such as “Today give a stranger one of your smiles, it might be the only sunshine he sees all day”, and “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of a battle”; but then there are quotes such as “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness” and “Nice guys finish last” that seem to suggest that being kind has the potential to make you a doormat for others. I don’t want my children to be pushed around because they fail to stand up for themselves in an effort to be nice, or to give in to the misconception that being kind makes you invisible when placed beside someone whose boisterous qualities are more dominant.
So, how do we strike a balance? How do we teach our children to stand their ground, stick up for themselves, be confident, and yet to be gentle, empathetic, slow to judge, and kind? We need to set an example, teach kindness by living out kindness. We need to take time to reflect with our children as their worlds change, encourage kindness when the instinct is to not share, to assume, or to turn the other cheek. Yet more than demonstrating with our own actions and encouraging via reflection we need to instill kindness by instilling in our children a sense of self-worth, self-love, and self-belief. We need to help them manage and understand their emotions, be confident in their decisions, actions, and personalities, and embrace their uniqueness in all of its beauty and complexity. For is it not true that a self-assured individual is pumped with the potential to assure others in their time of doubt?
I do not doubt that I can be very kind, but I am only kind sometimes. In my own self-reflection I have deemed that I am most kind when I am at a good place within myself, and I am mean more often than not when it seems easiest to take out whatever the issue may be on others, rather than face it myself. I judge because I am self-conscience or jealous. I am short-tempered because I am annoyed, sad, or frustrated. I am cruel because I am facing something ugly and trying to push it out rather than take it in. In order to instill kindness maybe we focus on what motivates others to be mean, and help our own children to process those emotions within themselves appropriately. We can start by working with our children (and ourselves) to understand the negative rather than be shamed by it, to find healthy outlets of release, and to motivate them to direct positive emotions onto others, and negative emotions towards learning, growth, letting go, and change.
On the positive, I am kind when I am happy, and I am happy when I love myself. It is easy to smile when I am having a good day, and it comes more naturally to be confident when I care less about what others think, and keep my focus on the inward rather than outward facades. The more I take care of myself and the better I know myself, the better position I am in to take the time to be aware of other’s needs, and to extend the kind of helping hand that follows through.
In order to be aware of opportunities to be kind, and act upon them, our focus must be outward, and for that we must be confident, know our own self-worth, and be at peace within. With that, I say, affirm your child; give them the gifts of self-love and self-assurance so that they will stand up to the mean bully and yet to not be the bully themselves, welcome the outcast and yet not feel ostracized by others, help another up, and yet know how to get back up after they themselves fall. Kindness is taught by first showing our children how to be kind to themselves.