Kindness is the number one value I emphasize at home to my children. I don’t ask them what grade they got on their test. I don’t ask them what they learned today. I don’t navigate their social experiences. I don’t tell them that if they studied they could have done bettter (or at least not at the moment). I ask them if they were kind today.
We discuss kindness and what that could look like. Kindness to themselves if they are experiencing poor self-esteem or having a bad day. Helping them might include validating their feelings. Praise. Listening to the issue without judging. Giving them the words, a script and strength so hopefully they will have resilience and coping skills to get through the next time they feel this way. Or at least knowing they could come home to a safe place and feel comfortable in being in a somewhat calm and consistent home environment.
We also actively discuss being kind to other children. Kindness to a person in their class if they notice that they could use a friend. That could include sitting with them at lunch. Helping them with an assignment at school. Making another kid laugh. Smiling at someone. Complimenting another child. Asking another child to make a plan over a weekend and not cancelling it. It includes responding to someone when they ask a question (in person or by text). It includes how they post on social media. Asking my kids questions about social media. Who are you including? By including are you excluding? Does every child have to be labeled a BFF? What if there are children that never get that post or don’t get that dumb (yes I know, very judgy) birthday post that might include a three-minute high-tech video with a caption like “happy birthday to my carpool BFF.” Or “happy birthday to my camp BFF.” Or “happy birthday to my real BFF.” Or even better, now kids have to deal with feeling left out with “happy 1/2-birthday” posts. Are you aware that most children have two Instagram accounts and one might be exclusionary in nature? I have conversations with my children about cliques and branching out. Discussing kindness also often involves listening to my children’s feelings of how other children treat them. It is safe to say that not everyone is having these conversations in their home.
We talk about kindness to adults including our babysitter by teaching them to say please and thank you. This includes saying good morning to their bus drivers, adults and people at school. Responding when someone speaks to them. It is not always natural or comfortable. I often have to remind them that a person just addressed them so please say good morning back. It is definitely a process and what is natural for one child might be quite different for another child.
We discuss being kind to their teachers by being respectful and polite. My journey as a parent has changed. My husband and I now choose a school based on how the school values and teaches kindness. It is our number one priority. When I look at the report card the first thing I always look at are the teachers’ comments and if my children are being respectful and kind. Grades are not my number one concern and my children know it because I tell them.
In various and different ways, my husband and I try to model, talk and actively teach and practice kindness at home.
We are not even close to perfect. Just ask our children! We could definitely do more, be kinder and do better. However, I am not sure my value system is everyone’s value system. Kindness does not always get you to be the most popular. Kindness can put your child in vulnerable social situations. Kindness can be overlooked and taken for granted at schools, camps and in communities.
Regardless, kindness starts at home and I believe we are missing real opportunities to sit with our children and actively discuss and teach what kindness looks like. For some children kindness is innate. For others it might need to be taught directly. Not just once. Over and over again.
Why is kindness my number one value? Because with kindness comes conversations about compassion, empathy and how to be a better person. This involves being kinder to others and most important being kinder to ourselves.
By Michal Agus Fox
Michal Agus Fox has a doctorate in school-clinical child psychology. She works in a private Jewish day school. Michal is married to Dr. Natie Fox. They have four children.