We want our children to be healthy, happy, motivated and successful. We hope they earn good grades, try new things and go for the gold. Deep down a lot of us share an even bigger desire: A wish for all our sons and daughters to simply be kind.
Two little words packed with a whole lot of feeling. There’s love, compassion, gratitude, empathy and awareness, all things that build that kind of character we hope our children will always embrace.
When my daughter was 5 I remember walking away from her parent-teacher conference and wanting to call my husband immediately to recap. The teachers told me my daughter was destined to be a great architect. They showed me photos of skyscraper creations she made saying, “No one’s built like this before.” I was impressed. Her teachers added she was strong, super active and ran with the boys. I chuckled. Then they said something I wasn’t prepared for. They called my daughter an “old soul” and gave me several examples of her sensitivity and acts of inclusiveness with others. I was speechless. Whatever the feeling was, it bypassed all my parental pride and went straight to my heart.
Like most behaviors in life, kindness goes beyond knowing the definition and takes real-life practice to pull off. After picking up my kids at school, I will often ask “Did anyone do something nice for you today?”
I want to know how it made them feel. Then, I follow up with “Tell me something nice you did for someone else.” This also helps break the classic quip “good” after I ask how the school day went.
Cultivating empathy is important too. It comes down to picturing ourselves in someone else’s shoes. While volunteering at school I noticed a student who was by herself most of the time during free play while the others were paired up. Later that night I turned that moment into a hypothetical asking my daughter “How do you think so-and-so felt sitting at the table alone? What could you do next time to help change that feeling?” I find these conversations evoke real emotions and at the same time help my kids become better at reading others.
Practicing random acts of kindness with the family can also be fun and effective. From doing a good deed to taking on a service project, there are so many opportunities out there. Here’s a cute idea you can do anytime.
Mission Be Kind: On a piece of paper address the mission to “Agent (put child’s name)” and write five secret service acts. Some suggestions: reading to a sibling, smiling at three people you don’t know; doing homework without being asked; and no complaining for a day. Put the mission in an envelope marked TOP SECRET. At the end of the week gather with the whole family to openly discuss all the secret missions accomplished.