How To Talk To Kids About Being Kind (Without Burning Dinner)
Whilst I was in the kitchen preparing dinner last night, my three little people were upstairs playing LEGO. It seemed jolly and largely uneventful – until it wasn’t. My 5-year-old daughter screamed, not a little playful scream, but a sharp, hysterical scream. At first, I yelled to tell them to stop fighting (ironic, I know!) and then swore (under my breath at least) and ran upstairs to find out what commotion was all about.
After the ping pong of ‘he said, she said’, most of the story emerged. It transpired she had annoyed her 8-year-old brother and he had retaliated. Physically retaliated. I could kind of see his point (5-year-olds really know what buttons to press) but I also felt trapped in this weird vortex of adjudicator and it being one of those moments when you know you’re supposed to teach your children right from wrong, boy vs girl, strong vs weak, kindness and tolerance vs gut reactions.
My son was mortified that he hurt his little sister, but genuinely pissed off with her. My daughter was secretly quite pleased she’d managed to elicit such a big reaction and my 3-year-old was offering an eye witness account, plus lecturing them both about what they had done wrong. Meanwhile our dinner was burning (of course). The smoke alarm went off and pandemonium set in (you can’t make this stuff up). This led to some lively dinner conversation – over some rather charred sausages - about what happens if the house burns down and how would we escape in the middle of the night if the place catches fire. It’s never straight forward this parenting malarkey is it?
Modelling Kind Behavior
The incident set a chain of emotions and thoughts in my head about what I was doing as a parent to raise healthy, happy and KIND children. And what kind of behaviour was I modelling myself?
That night I lay in bed obsessing about the countless times I had shouted at my children – exerted some control over them by having the loudest voice and being the stronger, grown up one. I tossed and turned, rehashing the times I had inadvertently shamed them by saying things like “that’s a really naughty thing to do”. The next day I shuddered at hollow threats that seemed to automatically fly out of my mouth, like “if you don’t help me clean up, I’m going to start throwing your toys away!”
I recoiled at conversations they might have overheard about me complaining about how I couldn’t shake the post-baby weight or how spectacularly tiny my boobs had become since my three kids stopped breastfeeding and how I just couldn’t love my post-pregnancy tummy. What kind of insensitive message was I sending to my kids – that kids messed up my body? That I couldn’t love myself because of my appearance?
Raising kind and grateful kids needs reframing… perhaps “Raising a kind and grateful parent” is more apt. I certainly don’t want to raise kids who are scared of me or who are sad that I feel shameful about a part of myself.
Talking to kids about being kind
In the end I had a long chat with my kids about that event that sparked all these doubts and questions. We talked about:
- Respecting each other’s boundaries and reinforcing your own boundaries when you don’t like something. The old “stop it, I don’t like it” line is a good one!
- That it’s OK to say “no and stop it, I don’t like it”
- That everyone will have unkind thoughts, but it’s how we act on those feelings that is important
- That mummy (and daddy) gets it wrong sometimes
- That mummy and daddy will apologise when they’ve yelled or over-reacted
- That people’s feelings should be treasured and treated with utmost kindness and respect
- That there is always another person’s perspective and if you stop and think about how the other person might be feeling and why they did something it can help make sense of a situation
- That we are all here on this earth to leave it a better place than we found it
Was that the end of friction in our house? NOPE.
Do I have perfect, kind children? NOPE
Do I think that raising kind children (and kind adults) is important? Absolutely. It’s my role as a parent to leave a legacy of children who can grow into fully functioning humans, who can contribute back to this beautiful world and make kind and compassionate decisions.
For more about raising kind and grateful kids join us on Sept 13 for an exciting panel event.