Children watch and learn. They watch how you talk to your spouse, your house help and even them. Just telling your child to be kind isn’t enough.
By Akhila Das Blah
On a recent trip to Japan, I was deeply moved by certain aspects of the Japanese culture. One of the things that struck me the most was the inherent kindness and consideration that they have for people around them. They show empathy to not just their friends and family but to strangers as well. They are respectful of a person’s private space. They follow rules, don’t jump queues and go out of their way to help people in need. They demonstrate consideration towards their fellow passengers by speaking in hushed voices or refraining from making loud phone calls while travelling on public transportation.
The examples above do not reflect the kindness and consideration of any one individual but are reflective of the level of importance that these values are given in Japanese society. Every parent across consecutive generations has instilled these values in each of their children to create an empathetic society. No child is born kind or considerate. These are values that are taught and they are taught by the child’s first and most influential teachers, his parents.
As parents, we place a lot of importance on our children’s achievements. We focus on their grades at school, the competitions that they take part in or the trophies that they win. And while we want our child to be kind, compassionate and caring, most of us don’t actively work towards it. Kindness tends to be a side dish served alongside a main course of academic and extracurricular accomplishments. But, if we want our child to be successful and happy, we have to prioritise kindness. Research has shown us that kind, considerate and empathetic adults have healthier and happier relationships with their loved ones and make better leaders/managers in their workplace. So, how can we encourage kindness in our children?
Make kindness a part of your conversation.
As part of their day, discuss ways in which they were kind that day. Ask them about friends, teachers or family members who were kind to them. Encourage them to appreciate the little things that people do for them. Encourage them to say please and thank you to the house help, drivers and watchmen who perform daily acts of service for them.
Appreciate their efforts at practicing kindness.
If they ask you for something politely or if they show consideration towards you, acknowledge it. “Thank you for asking me if I feel better today, I really appreciate it.” “I’m glad you offered to share the chocolate that you brought back from the party with your brother. That was a kind thing to do.”
While prioritising kindness, consistency and follow through is important.
They have to hear the same message from you all the time. Nip it in the bud. Object to tone of voice and words immediately. “I can see that you are angry but you need to address me in a calmer tone of voice. Take a deep breath and tell me what you need.” Don’t allow siblings to call each other names or be mean to each other.
If you make mistakes, apologise.
It’s hard to be proper all the time. We all mess up, we have our moments where we take our anger out on our loved ones. By acknowledging that you too make mistakes, you teach your child that to err is to be human. But, by being aware of how we make the other person feel, it is also in our power to acknowledge it and fix it.
Discuss conflict situations and how they handled it.
Encourage them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. There will be many times that your child will have a problem or a fight with another child. Instead of listening to your child badmouth another child, discuss the situation and what may have prompted the other child to do what he said or did. What could your child have done differently? Teach them to resolve conflicts through communication and empathy.
Provide opportunities to practice kindness and consideration.
Encourage them to help their grandparents carry a heavy bag. Or help a friend who’s been absent from school with their homework. As they get older, expand their concept of caring for people beyond their immediate friends and family. Encourage visits to old age homes or orphanages. Get them involved in disaster relief efforts. Discuss issues that are faced by people in less privileged positions than them.
As with all aspects of parenting, BE A ROLE MODEL.
Children watch and learn. They watch how you talk to your spouse, your house help and even them. Just telling your child to be kind isn’t enough. They need to see you be kind too. If you are constantly telling them to be kind, but forgetting to use please and thank you in your interactions, shouting instructions or calling people names, that is what they will register. They need to see you be kind in action, words and thoughts. They need to see you be kind to all types of people in varying situations. Getting up and offering your seat to an older person. Waiting patiently in line and not jumping queues. Kindness isn’t a virtue that is learnt in a day. They have to see you practice it every day. And slowly but surely, they will imbibe the same virtue until it becomes a part of their personality too.
As parents, we play an extremely important role in society. By doing our bit to raise kind, considerate and empathetic children, we are changing the world one little child at a time. So ask yourself, was I kind today?