Don’t Just Talk to Kids About Kindness—Model It!
BY DONNA CAMERON
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” L.R. Knost
What messages are you sending your grandkids when they’re in the car with you? Do they see you slow down and allow another car to merge, or do you speed up so no one can get ahead of you? If a driver is driving too slowly, too fast, or in other ways that seem aberrant, do you calmly explain why such driving is unsafe and unwise, or do you call the driver an “idiot,” a “moron,” or something worse? If an aggressive driver honks or flips you off, do you immediately react in kind?
“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” There’s a lot of evidence to back that up.
Similarly, in a restaurant, do they see you treat the server with respect? Is your conversation peppered with critical comments about the service, other diners, and general gossip, or do you express appreciation for the waiter, the food, and even the opportunity to spend time together with your grandchildren?
If you want to raise kind kids—and most parents and grandparents do—then you’ve got to do more than talk to them about kindness. You’ve got to model behaviors that will show them what kindness looks like. They learn far more readily from what you do than what you say.
Children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman has stated, “Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” There’s a lot of evidence to back that up.
A 20-year study1 by researchers at Penn State and Duke Universities concluded that kind children grow up to be the most successful adults. Children who in kindergarten freely shared with other children and were helpful to others were more likely at age 25 to be college graduates with full-time jobs. On the other hand, children who in kindergarten had frequent conflicts and difficulty sharing and cooperating were less likely to finish high school or college, and more likely to have substance abuse problems and altercations with police.
Kindness is more than just a feel-good virtue. It’s an essential quality for a good life. Help furnish your grandkids’ life toolbox by modeling the following kindness skills:
Learn to pause:
Instead of a knee-jerk, tit-for-tat reaction to someone else’s offensive comment or bad behavior, pause and think about who you want to be and what you want your grandkids to see and learn from this encounter.
Withhold judgment and employ curiosity:
When faced with incivility or baffling behavior, don’t immediately assume bad intent. In that pause, think about whether there might be something going on that you don’t know, or if the individual might be feeling threatened or frightened. Try offering the benefit of the doubt.
If we’re absorbed in our devices or our own internal dramas, we may not notice that there are opportunities to extend kindness all around us: holding a door, smiling at the cashier, offering assistance. Likewise, we may miss kindnesses extended to us. Notice and appreciate how much kindness there is in the world and look for ways to add to it.
Initiate conversations about kindness:
Get in the habit of acknowledging kindnesses when you see them; soon your grandkids will, too. And when you see an unkind action, talk with the children around you about what you saw. What do you suppose is behind it? Can we find a kinder explanation? What would a better response have been? How would you want to react in a similar situation? This is a great opportunity for you to ask a question and then spend some time listening. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom and compassion kids display.
Do it for yourself, too!
There’s been abundant evidence in recent years that kindness contributes to good health. Oxytocin—the hormone our bodies produce when we experience kindness—lowers blood pressure, reduces pain and inflammation, fights heart disease, and reduces depression. Other studies have demonstrated the role of kindness in business and social success, better sleep, increased creativity, and overall life satisfaction. Choosing to model kindness isn’t something you do just for kids—it’s good for you, too.
It’s never too late to become kinder.
Donna Cameron is the author of A Year of Living Kindly, newly published in September 2018 by She Writes Press. She has spent her career working with nonprofit organizations where she saw kindness in action on a daily basis. Donna lives in the Seattle area; find her here.