I was reading an article a few weeks ago that really stuck with me. It talked about how we should raise our children to be kind, not nice. The world is full of “nice people” who seem to always say the right thing, but feel uncomfortable doing the right thing when it’s socially awkward. I know I have avoided socially awkward situations and then felt guilty about it, and that’s not just because I’m a polite Canadian. It’s because as a “nice person” I shouldn’t be calling out others for their actions, but in critical situations the bystander effect can cost someone a lot, even their life.
A nice person asks you how your weekend went (kind people can do this too), but the kind person is the one who holds open doors, helps a stranger when their grocery bag breaks, and genuinely means the favors they offer. They pull the lever on the subway when someone is ill or in trouble, and they don’t need to post a humble brag about it on social media. A kind person speaks their mind about what is right, even when it’s the least popular opinion in the room. The subtleties of the art of diplomacy and holding your tongue when appropriate are also things we’ll need to work on with our kids, but that can come later.
I had a parent fail moment this week when I realized I had tried to steer my daughter towards being “nice” instead of kind when she wanted to confront a girl who was being mean to her friend. In my opinion she’d already done enough, gone to a teacher, and spoken her mind, but she was bothered because her friend was still upset, and wanted to make things right. Too often we want our children to be obedient “good” kids when they should be asking all sorts of questions, and they most certainly should be standing up for others. That’s where I failed. My daughter told me that she wished she had the authority of a teacher so she could better direct people to apologize when they do things that make her friends feel sad. It turns out she spent the next day making her friend feel better, so all is right again. I am proud that the pack mentality associated with the tween and teen years hasn’t yet impacted my kids, and I want to provide them with the tools so they’re ready when it does kick into high gear. Teaching our children effective conflict resolution, along with how to be kind is one of the best things we can do as parents.
Maybe I’m feeling empowered by the movement of anti-bullying through participation in Pink Shirt Day at school this week. I want my daughter (and my son) to be the type of person who stands up for the stranger who is being bullied on public transit, the person who calls their friends out when they say something sexist or racist (but has a healthy debate and doesn’t resort to calling their friends names), and I don’t want them to be afraid of being perceived as being problematic for doing so.
Whether your kid is 18 months or 8 years old there are many ways to bring out both the social justice warrior and compassionate person inside of them. To do this we need to step outside of our own comfort zone, which will be good for our personal growth as well. Here are some tips on getting started:
- Read a diverse cross section of books & then talk about them
By six years old a child is able to communicate more about emotions. Explore this together by reading books with some age appropriate conflict and come up with solutions for characters in the stories.
- Monitor media consumption
We noticed a pointed spike in name calling after our son was introduced to SpongeBob Squarepants. He quickly learned that when he called someone “Idiot boy” because Mr. Krabs did, it meant that he wasn’t allowed to watch anymore.
- Try a classroom social justice activity
There are many online resources that offer up different age appropriate activities to help create a fantastic learning opportunity for school aged kids. The resources on Education World are a great start.
- Use theme days as educational moments
International Women’s Day, Black History Month, Autism Awareness Month – there are so many different ways you can celebrate together and learn about challenges faced by different people, and what you can do together to help.
- Encourage volunteerism
Show your kids the importance of giving back to their community and the planet. It can be as small as having them help you pick a cause to donate to annually or helping to gather clothes or food for donation. You can also show them how to volunteer their time; this spring our family is having a park clean up to focus on environmental action and discussion together.
- Talk things out
When you experience conflicts in the adult world don’t be afraid to break down some of them in a discussion with and in front of your kids. You’d be surprised at how insightful children can be. In turn they’ll be more likely to workshop issues they’re having, while chatting at dinner with you.
- Protest together
Teach your kids to stand up for what’s important by taking the lead. They can make their own signs and really get involved. There are some great resources for parents who want to help their children protest alongside them with safety in mind.