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Kindness

by added on 10 October 2016, Comments Off on Kindness , posted in Blog

 

By Cecile Culp Mielenz, Ph.D.
Director, Woodinville Family Preschool
Licensed Mental Health Counselor

As the school year begins, I would like for us to think about emphasizing kindness and compassion during the upcoming months. As we demonstrate kindness to our children and to each other, we not only model for children but also we build our connections with each other and within our community. The parenting journey has more ups and downs than perhaps any other journey we may take in our lifetimes. Having a social network helps us to feel supported during those times of parenting challenges. Supporting each other may take the form of a hug, an invitation for a playdate, a story about our own parenting challenges, or even a smile from across the room. Children are watching as we interact with each other. Children are listening as we talk about them and their peers.

In working with children, I have seen so many acts of kindness and such demonstrations of empathy: toddlers who cry when their friends are crying and preschoolers who put an arm around a playmate who is hurt. I have also seen children imitating acts of violence that they may see on television or video games; they may imitate it even though they may not understand it. At preschool, acts of violence are unacceptable. Instead we need to teach our children to practice kindness in words, actions, and play. This may mean inviting another child to be included in a group that is playing together, offering another child a turn, pretending to be parents caring for babies in the housekeeping area. Many children today play out powerful and often violent themes from media rather than playing out the kindness and compassion that they witness in their own homes and relationships. Our job is to broaden children’s experiences with kindness so that more kindness is reflected in their play.

Children’s most basic understanding of kindness is centered in the parent-child relationship. It is learned by the way we model kindness and respect for our children: our patience, understanding, and our willingness to view the world and social interactions through their eyes. Our demonstrations of kindness toward our children teach them what kindness looks and feels like. It shows them how to be kind and respectful; kindness and respect are linked together in our words and actions as parents. As we treat our children with kindness, respect, and compassion, it becomes natural for them to treat others in these ways as well.

Sometimes we get caught up in the dilemma of wanting children to be kind to others by taking turns and sharing but also wanting our own children to be happy. To that end we may focus on our children to the exclusion of their peers: “You’re really mad that she took your toy. Wow, now you’re really angry! I can tell you are really upset by that!” Acknowledgment and validation of children’s feelings is important for them to feel understood and respected. However, research tells us that happiness comes from a focus on caring for others rather than on constant monitoring of our own feelings. After validating “You were surprised that she took your toy,” we can move to “I think she wanted a turn, too. Let’s talk about how you both can play with the toy.” We can act with kindness toward both our own children and other children. We can show them how to work together, point out how the other child is happy, and that sharing with others can make us feel happy too.

It can be very powerful to our own children to acknowledge that the other child is now smiling and happy “because you gave her a turn.” Over time, your child will develop that focus on caring for others. Meanwhile, however, because young children can still be quite egocentric, they may not yet be able to take the position of another person. They may still be focused on their own points of view. Know that it is okay to tell our children that the reason we treat others with kindness is because it is the right thing to do. Because it is.

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