When we think of kindness, we think of underlying traits such as empathy, morality and thoughtfulness. We think of the ability to control our emotions, even when we are upset or angry.
These are traits we would like our children to have.
We already talk to them about the golden rule, about treating others with respect and grace. We help them understand their emotions when they are upset, we problem-solve with them when they are in the thick of a troubling situation. We model kindness and respect in front of them. Is there anything else we can do?
Kindness, grace and empathy are reliant upon one other ability that is often over-looked; self-awareness. Self-awareness is the foundation for the capacity for kindness.
The more we are able to notice and understand our own feelings, the more we are open to reading the feelings of others. The root of caring and compassion is attunement.
The ability to understand how another person feels comes into play throughout life, not just when resolving playground disputes. Being emotionally attuned helps children – and adults – handle life’s inevitable stresses with greater flexibility, as well as make meaningful connections and form caring relationships.
Reading others’ emotions relies heavily on the ability to read non-verbal cues, such as voice tone, gestures and facial expressions. These subtle messages are often taken in unconsciously, and the ability to receive these messages is often learned softly, over time.
Children learn the foundations of attunement as they learn to tell their own stories, connecting events that occur in their lives with the emotions they feel. Narrating their experiences helps them understand emotions that can be overwhelming and confusing. For both delightful occurrences and devastating experiences, children learn to integrate, and eventually resolve, their feelings.
How can we help our children develop self-awareness? One strategy involves simply listening to our children when they tell us about their troubles and predicaments, then asking the right questions. We can guide our children to focus on both the details of an event and the emotions each caused. Parents who talk to their children about their emotions raise children who can comprehend their own and other people’s feelings more accurately and wholly.