I love our neighborhood. The families are friendly and the yards are always full of children playing football, jumping on the trampoline or running around having a good old time together. My son, Cohen, loves playing with his friends and I love that I’m able to keep an eye on him from my windows while tending to a toddler and a newborn. It reminds me a lot of my neighborhood growing up–if the sun is out, there are groups of kids playing.
One nice weekend a few weeks ago, the neighborhood was unusually quiet. Cohen was bored until he spotted a group of new neighbors playing in their yard a few houses down. My husband watched him walk over and made sure he was safe. But less than five minutes later Cohen came home with tears in his eyes and said to us, “They told me to leave their yard.” My heart immediately sank as I consoled him. Trying to explain that some children just aren’t kind but that shouldn’t change how we treat others is hard to do with a five year old. This is a child would welcome any Tom, Dick or Harry to play in his yard, which makes it even more difficult for him to understand why other children can sometimes be unkind and exclude people the way they did to him. Naturally, my thoughts turned to my own parenting and what I can do to ensure that I’m teaching my children how to be kind as they grow up.
Set the Example
It all starts at home–monkey see, monkey do. Our children are like sponges and soak up everything that they see and hear. When you exhibit kindness towards others, they will learn to do the same. The same goes for unkind behavior. If your child witnesses those around them teasing, bullying, or acting rude in general, they’ll likely mimic that behavior. Displaying kindness can be as simple as saying “please” and “thank you” at a restaurant. Or donating toys and clothes to others in need when you are able. I always make a point of using my manners when I’m out with my kids and I can proudly say that both my older children say “please” and “thank you” without prompts more times than not, not because I force them too, but because they learned by example that it’s a kind way of interacting.
We are All the Same but Different
Teaching acceptance and tolerance goes hand in hand with instilling kindness. Not long ago, on a quick trip to the grocery store with my kids, we passed a mom with a baby that was wearing a helmet. Cohen, who’s voice is always on mega volume no matter where he is, asked why the baby was wearing a helmet–in earshot of this mom and her child. Rather than becoming embarrassed, I used it as a teachable moment to tell him how sometimes babies need helmets to protect their heads and make them a little bit rounder. He then proceeded to ask why his baby sister Lola didn’t need one. It was the perfect moment to show how everyone isn’t the same, even babies, but we still treat everyone the same way we would want to be treated.
Trust me, I get it. After a full day of work you’re tired, and parking it on the couch in front of the DVR sounds amazing. But you are only granted a few hours with those precious children before bed, so it’s also important to make them count. At our house we do this by having family dinner at the table every night. Often times it’s something that was thrown together quickly on paper plates, but the important thing is that we’re together and present. We talk, tell stories and enjoy each others company. I think it’s important to set the tone for open communication while they are young, and this time together does just that. I also make sure to read Lola her three books every night and give Cohen his bear hugs and kisses before both go to bed, because I know just how much it means to them. By showing our children these simple acts of love, we are opening their own hearts and minds and creating kinder souls.
While the picture of Cohen with those sad tears in his eyes still resonates in my mind, he has forgotten about it and moved on to bigger things (like jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline). But if I can only do one thing right as a mother, it will be making sure my children know what it means to be kind. I want them to remember that you don’t have to like everyone, but you will still treat others the way you would want to be treated.