My sweet little kindergartner was coloring at the bar while I was cooking. It was a rare moment of peace during the pre-dinner rush.
He must have been deep in thought while he worked to keep the crayon inside the lines. Through the sound of sizzling hamburger I heard him say of the blue, “I don’t respect Donald Trump.”
It’s a bit of a shock when we see the world around us through the eyes (or mouth) of our children. Usually, it has us squirming a bit in our skin because what they say or do mirrors what we have said or done.
The effects of what is happening in national politics has trickled all the way down to our children.
My son’s statement was an interesting word choice for a 6-year-old. I’m sure he has heard me say similar things. It was a great opportunity for us to talk more about living in a democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, supporting our president and supporting our country.
It turned out my son’s biggest concern was not who will be the leader of the free world (he can barely grasp the difference between states, countries and continents). From his perspective, his concern was a bully becoming the leader.
In a video about bullying prevention, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert said, “one out of four students in Utah experience some type of bullying … it can affect a person into adulthood.” That is so sad.
Bullying can also affect our homes and our families too. Herbert suggests we “create a culture of respect and kindness in our schools and homes.”
Indeed, our home should be a place of inclusion and refuge. Our goal is to teach our children kindness and compassion, but we cannot do this through a lesson in the living room or a quote hanging on the fridge. Teaching kindness and compassion requires action: It’s about the things we do to show our children what compassion and kindness look and feel like, and then hope they mirror those things too.
Here are eight ways we can show our children how to be kind:
1. Speak kind words
My little kindergartner, who barely learned to read, has been reciting back the words and phrases he’s heard around him for years. Speaking kind words begins by speaking positively about yourself — and then it’s important it ripples out to others, especially those in your home.
2. Show kindness
When our children physically or emotionally hurt we can show them kindness, comfort and compassion. Let’s teach them how good it feels when someone is kind to us, and then, with their help, let’s show them what kindness looks like by being kind to others.
3. Only allow kindness in our home
No bullying. No name-calling. No toxic teasing. Let’s create a home that is a safe haven for our children. Stand up for each of your children and don’t let them hurt each other.
This also means we need to be kind to our children. On those really hard days it’s easy for us as parents to lose it and start yelling.
4. Seek opportunities to serve (and have kids participate)
Serving others is an easy way to show kindness, even respect. When our children watch us serve, they learn how service fosters compassion and empathy. If we can include our children when we serve others, we can begin teaching them these things by our example.
5. Create space for empathy
Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of others. It’s different than sympathy, which is feeling sorry for others.
I have found in my home, my children understand sympathy. They feel sorry when someone gets in trouble or loses a privilege. But empathy takes an entirely different level of compassion that requires vulnerability and a bit of maturity.
I love how Dr. Brené Brown compares these two emotions, her humorous analysis has even been put to animation in a short video. When we feel empathy for another, we go where they are emotionally and feel what they feel. We are able to sit in their pain with them, without trying to solve it.
As parents, it’s important for us to be vulnerable and empathetic with our children but also encourage them to do so with their siblings.
6. Point out equality and individuality
It’s important our children know we are all valued individuals no matter how different we are. We all matter, and we all deserve kindness and respect. At the same time, we are so deeply unique and that should also be celebrated.
7. Pray they notice
When we teach by example it requires patience and trust. We have to trust that our children will find kindness and compassion important too. We have to trust that when left to their decisions they’ll choose love. Set a good example, pray they notice and trust they’re learning.
8. Expect them to try
Show them by example what it means to be kind and compassionate and provide opportunities for them to model your behavior through conscious parenting and serving others.
On Instagram a few months ago I posted a quote by Barbara Bush that I found very encouraging, “your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens in your house.”
We can’t change a school, a city or a country on our own, but we can boost our home and how we approach kindness and compassion within those walls. Maybe, decades from now, we’ll see it made a much larger difference.