Life is full of choices. Some are easy choices like what show to stream next on Netflix, what to do on the weekend, or what to have for dinner (Ok, maybe that one is not so easy). Others are more difficult, like how to respond to a friend or family member who said something that upset you, or how to help your child after they came home from school and said they saw someone else calling a classmate a name. Let’s consider the more difficult choices for a moment. We will always encounter unwanted situations in life, and while we can’t necessarily control what happens, we can control our responses. In thinking about how to help kids (and us as adults as well!), reinforcing the notion of kindness can be a helpful guide in determining what these responses are.
“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind” is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. This book centers on Auggie, a 5th grade boy with physical differences, and his experiences going to school for the first time. Much like in real life, there are several situations that the characters are in where they face peer pressure to make certain decisions and are faced with the consequences of these choices, both positive and negative. The underlying message throughout the whole book is the power of being kind, which, it should be noted, should not be lost on us as adults.
Choosing to be kind is not necessarily inherent, it is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced often. Fortunately, this means there is a lot that you can do as parents to help instill kindness. While kids go to school every day, arguably their most important teachers are their parents, and their most important lessons happen at home, on the soccer field, and during play dates with their friends. Helping them see the kindness around them during these occasions, helping them identify how their potentially unkind choices affected others, and helping them come up with ways that they can make different choices next time are all ways to help teach kindness.
Here are a few other ideas that you can incorporate into your life to help with this skill:
Every day ask about one kind thing that your child did for someone else, and also about one kind thing that someone did for them. This conversation can be at the dinner table, before bed, or even in the car (with the music off). Please join in too and share your experiences as well! This brings me to my next point….
Model valuing kindness. It can be as simple as stating aloud your appreciation when someone does something kind for you- “wow, I had my hands full of bags and that thoughtful stranger noticed and held the door open for me. That was so kind and so helpful.”
Read books together. No matter how old the child is, read with them! Kindness can be found in every book, from Little Blue Truck for young children, Wonder for older elementary and middle school students, and The Odyssey for high schoolers as Odysseus relies on the kindness of others to get home. Look for the kindness of others and talk about it.
Recognize and name the acts of kindness that you notice your child doing- “you know, today on the playground I noticed that you helped another kid get up when they fell off of the monkey bars. When you stayed with them and helped them try again I could see the smile on his/her face from that choice.”
Being kind is a choice, and while sometimes a difficult one, it is also the most rewarding one! Feel free to share your ideas of how to spread with your kids, friends, and family, and let’s help make this world a kind one!