Be kind yourself.
That’s the start. I think we can all agree on that, right? Not as easy as it sounds, especially if we did not grow up with the greatest role models. My husband grew up with yellers. I grew up with the weaponized cold shoulder. Both really hurtful. Not kind.
So we had to figure out what kind of person we wanted our kids to be and be that ourselves, ’cause, you know, hypocrisy. And when we couldn’t be kind ourselves, to apologize and try again. This isn’t a comprehensive list but here’s what we tried to do to raise kind people:
- Said “Please” and “Thank you.” Yeah. The parents of my kids’ friends used to comment all the time about how polite my kids were. It made me proud but it also a little sad that simple courtesies were so rare they were remarkable. At least in New York.
- When someone asked for time or attention in a reasonable way they got it. Maybe not right away, but soon. That meant putting down whatever was in our hands, be it a spoon to cook with or a laptop to write on. And eye contact. That is very important. Eye contact means undistracted attention and focus.
- No yelling, hitting or biting. Seriously, when the kids were little this was a “rule of the house.” Even friends over for a playdate had to abide by the rules of the house. I should add ‘No running in the house.’ Running and yelling can be relative, that’s true, and subject to a family’s culture, ok. But please keep in mind that volume and pitch of a voice can escalate excitement and tension; not always a good thing.
- Validate thoughts and feelings. If I can count on the people I live with to acknowledge, validate and honor my feelings, I feel emotionally safe. Emotional safety is a big deal. I wanted my kids to feel emotionally safe in their home. They should be able to be angry with me. All I asked was that they express their anger without yelling, hitting or biting. Growing up, this was dicey for me. I would be told to forget about my own feelings. If I got mad at my Mom I would be frozen out for days. I should always feel bad for the other person, because, yeah, compassion. But what about self-compassion? Maybe this was a girl thing. Girls should always think about others first, themselves last. This was almost a f*#king rule for my baby boomer generation. Not a guideline, a rule! I think it still lingers in our culture but it’s getting better.
- Nurture compassion for others and for self. We would ask each other, can you imagine seeing the world from that other person’s (or animals) point of view? Or if my kid was being hard on himself, “if you had a friend feeling this way, what would you be saying to them?” The hardest thing for me was to practice what I preached, to be self-compassionate, to be that role-model.
- Teach how to give and accept a good apology. Being able to know what we did wrong, take responsibility for it, acknowledge it to the other person and ask for, not forgiveness necessarily, but at least acceptance of the apology, is central in our house. Again, growing up I don’t remember my Dad ever apologizing for anything and my mother was of the “Love is never having to say you’re sorry” school which never made sense to me! We are human! We are going to mess up! We’re going to mess up the most with the people we love because they are close to us, we bump into them all the time! If you can’t apologize to the people you love, what the hell!
I know there’s more. The bottom line for me as a parent wishing to rear kind people is to not be afraid of showing the messy struggle we have to be Good, to allow myself to be human in front of the kids but always with the anchor of Love at the center.
What do you do to teach kindness to your kids? What struggles do you have? I’d love to hear it. Please be kind and leave a comment. 🙂