Before we had our oldest daughter, my husband and I talked about the most important thing we could teach her. There are lots of things to teach. So many, actually, that one might think boiling it down to one thing would be super tricky. Turns out, it’s not. Kindness. That is the thing.
In making that conscious decision we were are also admitting that our kids might at some point be meanies. Not only is this true, it is likely. They’re kids. They do stupid stuff, and it’s our job to help them be less bumbling and hurtful to their friends. Our job to not let them get all “Lord of the Flies-y.”
We parents micromanage the crap out of our children’s choices of outerwear, their homework, their food intake, yet think it’s okay, laudable even, to step back and let the social learning unfold as it may. For me and my girls, I believe there is no more important place to guide them. There is nothing more vital in their lives than the relationships they form, and I won’t stand idly by while my child fumbles through. I won’t micromanage either, that’s not my style. At least not all of the time, but if I’m ever going to step over the line, it will be to make sure that kindness and inclusion are ruling the day.
I am my child’s moral compass. I’m it. The most important map toward kindness that she can have. Gah, the pressure! Right?! They are watching. All. The. Time. Even when you think they are sleeping, but really they’re laying quietly in their beds hoping that you’ll say something snarky about your neighbor that they can then hold against you later (just an example of course). Or maybe not. Maybe your kids go right to sleep and never have to pee 3.2 minutes after they just peed or wait all sneaky-like to catch you being snarky. Or maybe you’re never snarky. Me neither. Anyway, I digress. The moral compass. It’s me. And you. We must teach them by our actions and our words. Let them know that kindness is a family value. Show them that it matters to you.
Let’s admit that the best anti-bullying campaign is a parenting campaign of kindness. It’s kinda too late in middle school to start saying, “oh, yeah, don’t be mean to each other.” This is not to say that it’s not important to do that too, but we must start earlier. Let’s admit that when we look the other way when our child excludes another or takes a toy or doesn’t acknowledge the shy little girl that whispered “hi,” we are teaching that it’s okay to be a little bit mean. When our only response to these small, hurtful things is a casual, “That wasn’t nice,” and then we move on, we are letting our littles know that it actually doesn’t matter that much. We must teach them.
Remember that clip that made the rounds on Facebook of the boys soccer team consoling the team they had just beaten? It was fantastic. Those boys were so gentle and kind. I’m certain there is at least one parent out there patting themselves on the back because they watched their careful cultivation of kindness come to fruition. And all the boys followed suit. They were exactly what we all hope to see in our children. But we need to teach that. “Be nice” is a totally useless platitude if we haven’t taught what nice looks like. It’s hard, it’s all the time, I know. I fail at this regularly. But I will continue to do my best. I will continue to engage in these interactions as much as possible.
I will continue to teach my girls that everyone deserves kindness. By teaching this, it also reinforces that they deserve kindness. They deserve to always have their bodies and their ideas respected by others. If this is their expectation for their own behavior it will be much easier for our babies to expect it and know that they deserve kindness from others.