Can kindness be taught? I’m not sure, but I’m sure trying to find out.
“Use your manners!” I call out with a sing-songy voice, checking the box on doing the right thing to raise my kids to be good human beings.
But is that enough? I don’t think so.
Sometimes, no matter how great a role model I try to be – remembering my own “please” and “thank you,” my kids can be downright rude to each other, and sometimes (GASP!) even to me. I know it’s a normal sibling thing and a tween thing – look at TV sitcoms where there always seems to be one sibling who is a bit rougher around the edges or who gains happiness by bothering others – but I find that in my house, some reminders on top of me modeling good behavior can help bring kindness a bit more to the forefront of how my boys move through life.
Here’s how I’m trying.
I am inherently, in my core, deep down in my heart, a loving, kind, mushy, emotional person. I gush with feelings and words and – often-times – selflessness. My friends make fun of me for being just like my own mom, always making sure everyone else is taken care of before I am (Are you cold? Just right? Is your belly full? Do you need a drink? — I think a lot of moms operate that way!). I find joy in sending sunny notecards to friends, or dropping off a surprise yummy treat. I send photos that capture memories. I plan get-togethers.
But I’m also exhausted . . . really exhausted from . . . well, life. Parenting, working, thinking, doing, breathing, loving, friending, adulting, wifing, planning, going, encouraging, celebrating, role-modeling . . . all of the things. And sometimes that means I lose my patience, or I have a short fuse.
So how do I get through? I check myself. When my son wants me to listen to him play a song on the toy xylophone, but I’m busy packing lunches and finding socks for another kid and making breakfast for the other, I sometimes snap back with “I can’t right now! I’m doing everything else” in a super-snarky tone. That’s not the mom I want to be. So I’m becoming more aware of when I do those things, and I’m finally – after years of doing nothing for myself – making time for ME. Whether it’s watching a 22-minute show on Netflix, sitting down to write a blog post, or – honestly – just reminding myself to pause in the moment to breathe, I find that these little things help me regain perspective. That helps my answer come out more gently, with a kinder, more positive angle, such as, “I can’t wait to hear! I’ll be there as soon as I’m done with these other things.” While words matter so much, so does the way in which we say them. I’m trying to show that to my boys, and I hope they absorb my tonality.
LIFT PEOPLE UP
Don’t get me wrong – my boys say plenty of nice, kind things. But I also hear them say things like “you’re so dumb” when somebody makes a wrong move in a video game, or “you’re so bad at this!” when outside shooting hoops. It’s ok – it’s normal . . . it often bounces off the other kid, or he dishes it right back . . . but I’d rather they not say those things at all. At the risk of being accused of being a sugar-sweet-everything-is-rosy Caillou kind of household, I admit I am intentionally focusing on making sure my sons know the importance of, and ways to, lift people up instead of taking them down.
It’s so easy to lift someone’s spirits! Smile at someone who looks sad. Say hello to someone you pass in the hall. Reach something off a grocery shelf for someone who has their hands full. Share a snack. Invite someone over to play. Pick someone a flower. Write someone a note.
I try to model these things for my children, hoping they watch and subconsciously learn. But just in case, I also have a visual reminder hanging in our kitchen: Little cardboard hot air balloons hung on the wall, with each of my son’s photos in one. Any time I hear them using negative language or bringing someone down, I give them my “now – now” Mommy look and simply point to those balloons, and mouth “lift people up.”
Note: This of course took some explaining to my youngest. “Mommy, so he will say something nice and then come pick me up and bring me high into the air?” No, not quite honey . . .
[And another note: You know how sometimes it feels like no matter how good a role model you are, or how hard to try to teach your kids things, they just don’t pick itup? Wrong. They’re listening. They’re watching. They’re absorbing. We were recently at an event multi-school event, and as I was walking down the hall with one of my sons, I overheard a young girl in front of me talking to her mom about how hungry she was, but unfortunately, the snack bar was closed and the vending machine was broken. She was clearly on the border of a massive public tantrum, and the mom was apologizing for having left her bag in the car. I had snacks in my bag, on my shoulder.. Lots of snacks, because … BOYS. So I leaned in and said, “I overheard your conversation — if she’s really hungry, I have some snacks she could have . . . ” The mom was so gracious, the girl was so happy . . . she took a granola bar, thanked me and continued walking with a smile. My son had felt awkward about this at first — sort of like “Mom, why are you talking to these people you don’t know, and why are you telling them you heard their conversation?” I said to him afterwards, “Do you realize what just happened there?” And guess what he said?!?!?! “Yes. You lifted people up.” BOOM. Proud mommy moment. My work here is done. ]
I have also asked my boys to use what I call a verbal filter – ideally before they say something emotionally charged, but sometimes it’s helpful after the fact, too, to evaluate their words. I honestly can’t remember where I saw this first – somewhere online, so I can’t take credit for these questions – but I am so happy I found them, put them on a letterboard at home, and am using them with my kids.
- Is it kind?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it true?
If none of the above, then don’t say it. Or if you’ve said it, and now realize it doesn’t meet those criteria, think of what you could have said instead.
Sure, it’s tricky – one son said, “well, I knew it wasn’t true, but I was just trying to be funny and make a joke.” Yes, I get it. There are certainly exceptions. So I’m not suggesting that every single sentence be analyzed, but rather that – in general – we use these guidelines to ensure we’re not saying hurtful things to others.
Checking myself, lifting people up, and using a verbal filter are all ways I’m trying to teach kindness to my kids every day, hoping they incorporate it into their way of life daily as well. But we often also deliberately do what we call “Kindness Projects.” These range from the very simple surprising someone with flowers when we know they’re going through a rough time, to the more organized food drives or lemonade stands to raise money for charity. Here are 12 ideas for Kindness Projects, and I’d love to hear more from you!
In a world of texting and emailing and violence and bullying, it’s super-important to me to raise my children to use kind words and treat people with kindness. We’re not all sugar-coated here — (I admit my kids have heard me say the f-word), but I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can. How are you raising kind kids?