A concern I have heard from many parents during the election season that just passed is, “What will we tell our children?” Many times the behavior I see promoted in popular culture, Hollywood, and on television is not what I would want for my children. Since my kids are little, up until this point, I have been able to shelter them from much of this by monitoring the programs they watch on TV. I still can but this election season has made my job as a parent and a teacher much more difficult.
We tell them to treat others the way that they want to be treated, to use kind words, to share, to be generous to those who are suffering, to seek out the lonely and stand up for the oppressed. This has become even more challenging as they see the opposite exemplified. Even though I try to shelter them from it, I know my children and my students hear these things too. They also see adults shrug their shoulders, joke about, laugh off or even condone this bullying and meanness. I know because I listen daily to their kids' questions.
My main reassurance in all of this is that for the most part, my husband and I, as well as my children’s teachers, are still the main influences in their lives. And we are campaigning for kindness.
Kindness is more important to me than most political issues. In fact, I think it is the only way to combat the hate that we are surrounded by right now. And, as with many things, the responsibility for instilling the value of kindness in our children lies on the shoulders of parents and teachers. So how do we teach our children to be kind at a time when bullying and bad behavior are being glorified? Here are five ideas that I will be trying with my kids:
- Teach your children that we are more alike than we are different.
We all have the same basic needs for food, shelter, safety, love, knowledge and respect. However, we often have very different opinions on how these things should be achieved. Although we may look different, sound different, have different opinions, cultures, or languages, we often have a lot in common too. Teach children to look for these similarities and to treat others how they would like to be treated. Because even though we may seem very different at first, we all have feelings.The ability to live and work together and to be kind and respectful of each other will come from refocusing on this common ground.
- Teach your children that differences should be celebrated.
Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone were the same? Our differences are what make us unique and special. Teach your children to approach differences with joy, curiosity, and an open-mind rather than fear or skepticism. After all, differences present a chance to learn something new. You may wonder how this can be accomplished. I think the first step is to surround your kids with people from a variety of different cultures, ethnic groups and religions, not just people that are exactly like yourself. Take your kids to cultural fairs or let them try food from other countries. Teach them that not everyone is the same but that it is this variety is what makes life interesting.
- Teach your children to seek first to understand.
We do not always agree. This should not prevent us from listening, which can be our most effective communication skill if we use it wisely. Often we seek to be understood before we seek to understand. We listen while mentally forming the perfect reply. Even though listening can be the much harder choice, it is often the only way forward. Teach your children to listen and respectfully ask clarifying questions when someone says something that they disagree with or makes a decision that is different from the decision they would make. You might remind them “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
- Teach your children to confront hatred and bullying.
Teach your children that it is never okay to stand by silently while someone is being called names, bullied, or harassed. The silence of “good people” is often misinterpreted as support. Depending on the situation, teach your child that it is important to speak up for the person who is being mistreated or to seek out help from a teacher or caring adult. Teach children empathy, and ask them to put themselves in the other kid’s shoes. If your child says or does something unkind to a sibling, friend, or classmate ask them how they think their words or actions made that person feel.
- Teach your children to take action.
Although it is important to listen and to focus on commonality, sometimes action is more appropriate. Encourage your kids to lend a hand to causes that they believe in and volunteer with your children to show them how they can help people who are struggling or less fortunate. This will take them out of their personal bubble and help them to see the perspective of others. Show them that they can be a part of the change that they wish to see in the world.
I am hopeful that together with our children we can help to make American kind again. If you are as lucky as I am to be surrounded by children on a daily basis, I am sure you are also amazed at their capacity to help others, understand and celebrate differences, and lend a hand. Our children serve as a beacon of hope. Their bright lights shine in an often dark and difficult world. As adults, we have a responsibility to cultivate this light.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC