Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

More Kindness: Three ways to encourage compassion in our kids

Posted February 13

Tim Coleman, St. Timothy's School, Raleigh

Editor's Note: Tim Coleman, Head of Middle School at St. Timothy’s School in north Raleigh, shares tips on how to encourage kindness every day.

This week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, established to help celebrate kindness as a necessary virtue, especially among school children. Schools across the country will participate in activities to help emphasize the importance of kindness.

As an educator, I love this week. At St. Timothy’s School, we regularly use some of the terrific lessons made available by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation to reinforce kindness’s significance. But I do sometimes find myself wondering: Why just a week? And why make it random?

There are a few other designated times of the year when we’re encouraged to emphasize kindness. Thanksgiving and Christmas, which center on gratitude and thinking about the needs of others, are certainly kindness-focused, too. Still, it is often easy to forget to be kind in our day-to-day interactions, especially when we’re running late, we haven’t slept or we’re stressed. Is a week-long celebration with a few other isolated days sprinkled in really enough to make kindness a regular habit?

Making kindness habitual is the kind of hard work that requires day-in, day-out commitment and re-commitment. Like other important values, it needs to be regularly discussed, practiced and reflected upon. A few simple acknowledgements about kindness can start the process of establishing it as a routine.

Here are three ways to to build kindness into every day:

Kindness is a choice over which we have 100 percent control.

So much of our lives are shaped by the actions of others - and this is especially true (and sometimes frustrating) during childhood and adolescence. However, whether we choose to admit it or not, we always have control over being kind.

At St. Timothy’s School, we stress to all of our students that each of their actions is a choice and that ultimately our school community is the product of their choices. While we do emphasize and teach certain values, the daily actions of the students truly define who we are. When students act with kindness in mind, the effect in our community is massive. Even simple actions such as holding the door for others can have a widespread impact.

Kindness should be both forward-looking and reflective.

Brain scan technology developed over the past few decades has officially told us something that parents have known for ages: Adolescent brains are wired to be high performing emotionally, but less developed on the decision-making front.

Having regular conversations about kindness can help equip children with strategies for better decision-making when emotions are running high. Car rides home from school or dinner time are perfect times for families to talk.

Engage in some “what-if” conversations about how we ought to respond to certain people or behaviors … the ref who made the bad call, the car who cut us off in traffic, the co-worker or fellow student who just can’t seem to say anything nice no matter what we do. Much like doing fire drills when there is not a crisis, discussing hypothetical opportunities for kindness might produce better outcomes in those moments when tensions run high.

It is also important to keep kindness at the forefront after we make mistakes. Children (and adults!) will make mistakes, but the potential for learning from them is huge if we’re honest with ourselves and our children about ways we could have handled situations more kindly.

Often, when we react emotionally in a stressful situation, we haven’t taken the time to consider the impact of our words or actions. Talks with children about harsh and hurtful words used by siblings, for example, should include a recognition of the impact of those words - sometimes long after the moment they’re spoken. Saying “I’m sorry” often isn’t enough. A commitment should be made to act with more kindness during the next disagreement.

Kindness can be difficult.

At St. Timothy’s School, we have introduced Social and Emotional Learning or SEL classes over the last two years. In SEL, students develop self-awareness skills, practice working with others and examine their own decision making. Some conversations in SEL class focus on applying kindness when difficult moments arise. “When is it hardest to be kind?” a teacher may ask. These discussions help prepare students for those difficult moments to come.

Difficult though it can sometimes be, kindness’s power cannot be understated. Its impact on community - whether school, national or global - can set a tone of acceptance over rejection, of forgiveness over lack of mercy, of warmth over cruelty.

As a parent, one of the hopes I have for my own children is that as they grow, they will lean on kindness to make decisions and build relationships. I hope, too, that they find kindness in return.

Tim Coleman has worked in education for 16 years and is the father of two children, ages 3 and 5.

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