By Virginia Hrywnak, DO, Deputy Executive Director of Healthy Learning Paths, family physician, and imperfect parent of 2 school- aged daughters
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice…those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak,” explains Simon Sinek. How can we raise kids that speak up for others? Kids who are kind, compassionate, and caring? Research shows that kids learn more from the ACTIONS of their parents than their WORDS.
Here are some scenarios to think about –
- When your kids are playing in a group sporting event are the adults emphasizing winning more than having fun, being active and showing good sportsmanship?
- At school, do you want your kids to speak up and tell a trusted adult when a classmate is showing signs of sadness, seems down, or is acting different than usual?
- Is any bullying tolerated, allowed, or ignored? Are kids given the impression that they have to figure it out on their own?
Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, who runs the Making Caring Common project found surprising results in a new study released by the group. “About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that, ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’” Disturbing stats right? So where do we start? What can we as parents, educators, and members of our community do?
Here are some tips:
- Get started. Kids are never too young to learn kindness, and it’s never too late to start. Even toddlers can be taught to be gentle with toys, pets, and others.
- Keep trying. Practice. Practice. Practice. Most kids need lots of positive support, using examples and frequent “real life” reminders to fully grasp a concept.
- Everywhere, every time. Don’t let kids spit in your face, slap you, or grab your hair. Not ever. Gently, but firmly tell them they may not continue with the behavior. Be consistent. Don’t laugh at such behavior because that sends a mixed and confusing message.
- Kindness is its own reward. Don’t reward kids for being kind. When kids think they’re only being kind for a reward, it takes away the deeper meaning of the act.
- Role play. Don’t assume. When kids can’t grasp why what they did was mean, ask them how they would feel in the other person’s shoes. This can help them be less likely to hurt others in the future.
- Build others up. Don’t focus on building your child’s ego. Their desires, needs, and wants should not always come before others’. Discuss feelings.
- Keep it real. Don’t dismiss or minimize a negative emotion, such as: “It’s not that bad,” or “You’re fine.” Never punish negative feelings. This can be tough. Allow your child to express negative feelings and then work through them together. As your child understands her/his own feelings, she/he will become more sympathetic and more empathetic.
- Talk about it. Discuss the feelings of others in everyday conversations. Use examples from your day. Talk about how events are associated with specific emotions. For example: “Poor children who don’t have food feel happy to receive food.”
- Even when it’s a special day or a regular day, pay attention to your actions and to the lessons you are teaching. When you’re driving and stuck in traffic, or standing in a long line, kids are watching. Even on their birthdays, vacations, weekends, and holidays, make sure kids know it’s still important to be kind.
- Kindness starts at home. You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Don’t expect grandparents, teachers, counselors, or babysitters to teach your children to be kind. Find a way to serve and give as a family. Donate your time, toys, books, or small amounts of money to needy children. Never force it, but encourage participation. Your child will learn so much from your example. It’s your job; and it’s a gift.
I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite children’s book authors- Jamie Lee Curtis “Is There Really a Human Race?” book:
“So, take what’s inside you and make big, bold choices. And for those who can’t speak for themselves, use bold voices. And make friends and love well, bring art to this place. And make the world better for the whole human race.”