Kindness is something we all strive to be on the receiving end of but how many of us are able to be reflective of how kind and compassionate we are ourselves?
Children are not born to be kind, they are born to survive. The survival instinct is strong and the need to find a connection is paramount in children surviving and thriving in the world. Children look up to those who they have created strong connections with and mimic their behaviour and language, they develop their ‘right and wrong’ moral compass from what they see modelled to them.
What do you do to teach your child kindness?
I am witness to many, many cases of children being unkind to each other daily. Let’s be clear that this is ABSOLUTELY normal in young children as they develop; these experiences help them to develop empathy. Causing and being on the receiving end of unkind behaviour in some way or another, be it physical or emotional, enables them to experience a range of emotions that help to develop the frontal cortex of their brains that is responsible for their social skills, problem solving and judgement.
As it is not something they are born with it is something that must be taught, just like math, spelling or science. And, just like any area of learning, experiences play a vital part in these skills developing; experimenting, learning from mistakes, figuring something out for themselves all helps them to have a good understanding of whatever area of learning they are exploring.
Compassion and kindness is something that of course gets looked at and talked about in schools but let us be honest – schools are busy places with a huge academic curriculum to teach and other areas of children’s holistic development just simply do not come as high on the agenda as academic subjects. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather my children grew up to be kind, compassionate and resilient with a genuine passion and determination to make good in the world than achieving high grades in all school subjects.
That’s where we as parents can make the difference. We must take the time to teach our children how to be kind. Don’t ever take it for granted that they just know - they only know if they’ve learned it in some way, and even then mistakes will be made, just as we adults make mistakes.
Firstly, think about how you talk about other people in front of your children. Are you guilty of standing in the playground with the other parents having a moan about another child, teacher or parent? Your child will see that and want to emulate you, so don’t be surprised if they then go into school and imitate that behaviour amongst their friends.
Secondly, think about how you demonstrate kindness to your child. Kindness, like many other aspects of emotional literacy, is contagious. Do you tell them to stop being silly when they are upset about something? Do you take the 10 minutes at bedtime to sit and really listen to them and respond to what they are saying? Do you help them to be reflective in their own behaviour or do you automatically side with your child if they talk to you about a playground dispute?
Thirdly, schools don’t see everything. Be aware that as children get older they become more able to adapt to different situations and environments so although a class teacher may see a child of exemplary behaviour it is unlikely that your child will be the same in front of their peers. Talk to them about how they may feel in certain situations and how they may respond. Nobody expects their child to be the one who causes upset but that’s not realistic. Be realistic.
Lastly, think about how your child communicates through their smart phone or other device and who with. Children are using iMessage, texts, Whatsapp and other forms of online messaging from a much younger age than we could ever have imagined 10 years ago. And it goes without saying that 10+ year olds haven’t yet developed the skills to use these resources as responsibly as we like to believe. In fact, I know many adults that send messages that say far more than they meant them to! What we say when we’re face to face with someone is clarified by our facial expressions and body language - when you take them away it is all down to the words, and words can be easily misinterpreted.
Monitor what is said via this medium and talk to your child about it. I plead with you to not give your children free reign on these devices from such a young age. You are in charge and they need to be taught how to use these devices safely, kindly, gradually. Giving them the responsibility is simply TOO MUCH for them to handle amongst everything else that is going on in their jam packed developing brains.
Talk to them about the importance of non-verbal communication and how, with that vital element missing from online exchanges, even if they are not intending to be unkind their words do not have the same delivery as they do face to face. Ask them to stop and think “Would I be happy for my mum/dad/friend’s mum/teacher to read what I’m going to send?”
Your child is not entitled to any privacy when it comes to their mobile phones. Police recommendations are that you should have FULL access to what is on their phones at any time. A phone is not the same as having a locked diary under a pillow. Because it is not a way of capturing your thoughts, but a way of sharing them, it has huge potential to harm if not monitored and used correctly. Make that clear to them so that they know from the beginning that this is the agreement take it or leave it.
This helps you to keep them safe by giving you time to educate but also to help educate and teach them about kindness and compassion online.
Remember, kindness is contagious. What do you do to teach your child kindness? Born to survive, taught to be kind.
Jennifer Wyman is founder of Bridge the Gap and an emotional education consultant and trainer. A qualified early years practitioner and mum of two with over 21 years experience within the early years sector.