As you know, my family enjoys the arts. We enjoy going to musicals, shows, concerts and performances of all types. What you may not know is that the Odoms tend to have critical ears. And sometimes mouths. We have a rule at our house that it’s fine to discuss a performance, but anything negative needs to wait for the car ride home. Why? You never know a person’s circumstances. You never know who is in earshot. You may be standing near someone’s parent, or sitting behind that person’s grandparent. Yes, that song may have been pitchy, but to that parent or grandparent, that is their child, and that covers a multitude of sins. Also, you don’t know what obstacles that person may have gone through to even get up there on the stage.
One of the things that has had priority for me as a parent is teaching my kids to be kind. I personally never want to be responsible for hurting someone’s feelings. I certainly never try to do it intentionally and feel awful if I do so inadvertently. Children by nature don’t come with a natural filter. They usually just say what they are thinking. It’s our job as parents to make them feel empathy. To teach them to be kind in all circumstances. Unfortunately, all of us know from an early age what it feels like to have our feelings hurt. We have to teach our children that it’s not okay to make people feel that way and how to proactively prevent it from happening.
So, how do you teach your children to be kind? I think it starts with awareness. Just as in the example of not being negative about a performance, you have to teach your children to THINK (I know – it’s an uphill journey!) about the situation they are in and how their words may affect people around them. It starts when they are young. Here are some things we have done that I think are good practice when teaching children to be kind:
Seek Out the Person Who Needs a Friend. One thing I reinforced over and over again when my kids were young was to encourage them to seek out a person who needed a friend. There is always someone – a visitor, someone new to class, or that clingy or awkward person that doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. (Sometimes it’s even your child – but they don’t have to know that!) Helping them to be on the lookout for that person and to seek them out and be kind not only is the right thing to do – it can help them come out of their shell as well.
Don’t Participate in Gossip. I think this is especially hard for parents of girls. It is definitely NOT the norm for teenagers or pre-teens to not be involved in “catty talk”. However, nothing good can come from bad-mouthing people. I encourage my girls that when they find themselves in a situation where everyone is talking badly about someone – even if they inwardly agree with them – to not engage. Don’t be that person. Better yet, stand up for that person. But if you can’t in good confidence do that, it’s best to remember the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Even things you feel are said “in confidence” is not safe. People are flaky. They will turn on you and next thing you know, you’ll be the person they are referring to when they say, “Well, you know what she said about you…” And don’t even get me started about texting. Digital screenshots are a thing. Texts are never retractable, and once they’re out there, they’re out there. Don’t allow a negative digital footprint.
Talk Less. Smile More. Okay, I know – lame Hamilton reference. But it’s good advice. Do you ever leave from a conversation feeling really good about it and then later think, “Yikes — all I did was talk about myself!” I think it’s natural to want to talk to your friends about what’s going on in your life. There is absolutely a time and place for that. But good conversation is give and take. You have to teach kids this because it’s not something that naturally happens on their own. You have to teach them not to dominate conversations. You have to teach them to listen – and to really listen to others. Just like when you left that conversation feeling good, flip that — we want to make others leaving a conversation with us feeling good about themselves. So many adults don’t have this quality. That’s why I feel it’s an important one to teach. I teach my children to listen to others — to give others the chance to talk about themselves. It’s the kind thing to do, and in the long run, people will like you more because you make them feel like they are important enough to listen to. And let’s be honest – what pre-teen is not worried about people liking them?
Think Before You Speak. Duh. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s harder than it sounds. Teach your children to think about what they’re saying before it exits their mouths. Some people are better at this than others. My husband is a master at this — he carefully crafts every word that comes out of his mouth. On the other hand, I’m still needing to be reminded sometimes that something could have been said better, or maybe I shouldn’t have said that thing I said. Teach your children to consider their words and how they will make people feel. Because language is amazing, but powerful. Words can hurt. Instead, encourage your children to use words that encourage and build one another up. Which leads to the last item –
Find Something to Compliment. I am not encouraging kids to give false compliments or to lie and tell people things they don’t mean. I don’t want them being superficial and making things up. But there is usually something you can find that is nice to say about someone — and don’t we all like to receive compliments? It makes us feel good. Even something as simple as “I love that shirt!” can make someone’s day. I try and teach my children to seek out those opportunities to say a kind word. Give a small compliment. In a world where there can be so much ugly, it’s a breath of fresh air.
My children are far from perfect, but I do feel like on the whole they try to be kind. It’s not easy — they screw up now and then, as do I. These are all things that I, too, still have to work on daily — but it’s so important. Let’s raise a generation of people who look to be kind. Teach them to care about people’s feelings and to be a light in their world.