I thought I’d write an article on what kindness is. In my effort, I drowned myself in research and articles about kindness. What is kindness? There are words that stood out to me throughout different sources: generous, helpful, loving, etc. I even surveyed my friends and acquaintances. The results were somewhat interesting (people consider “honesty” a characteristic of kindness far more often than I would have).
Yet, none of my research brought me closer to knowing how to parent a kind kid. And that’s all that this is really about.
It’s interesting how little consensus there is on what makes a kind person kind. It’s no wonder our children think academics matter most.
School, parents, and the media send a unified message about what academic success looks like. But there’s no unified consensus about kindness.
Kindness is important, we agree, but what is it?
I’ll share with you what I’ve learned from the experts, but, at the end, I decided the definitions weren’t the point. I realized, as a parent, I’m not looking for a definition. What I need to understand is the really practical components of being kind. Kindness is this big grand castle in the air, but there are easier skills to start with.
First, what is kindness according to Merriam-Webster?
Merriam-Webster tells us, kindness is “the quality or state of being kind.”
Thanks, MW. That wasn’t really helpful.
However, things got a little more interesting with the adjective “kind.”
Kind (adj) means…
1. of a sympathetic or helpful nature
◦ // was helped by a kind neighbor
2. of a forbearing nature
◦ // kind treatment of animals
3. arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance
◦ // a kind smile
Sympathy, forbearance, and helpfulness… I’m not sure about teaching forbearance yet, but these are three distinct, teachable traits of kindness. I felt like I was getting somewhere.
A kind person MUST also be ___.
I asked my friends and acquaintances on Facebook this question to get at a few more of those traits. Exactly none of my friends included forbearing or sympathetic.
“Loving” got the most answers, with every participant selecting it. Considerate, thoughtful, and genuine were next. Only half selected “helpful” or “generous.”
Other people say…
- “ABC – Kindness is an Action, intended to Benefit, typically accompanied by an Emotional Component.” –Kindness.org
- “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others.” –Wikipedia.org
- “Kindness is love in action.” –Kindness Is Everything
- “Kindness is acting without expectation of reciprocity or recognition.” –BecomingWhoYouAre.net
Bringing it back to raising kind kids
At this point in my research, I got pretty frustrated. In fact, I considered tossing out the entire basis of this website. Maybe kindness is too big of an idea. Maybe you can’t define it. Maybe it doesn’t really matter anyway. Maybe parents already know how to raise basically good kids, and that’s all that matters. It’s all a bit wishy-washy, I thought.
But then… 80% of middle schoolers valued personal success over kindness in a recent study. That statistic still haunts me. Parents are doing so many awesome things, but we’re failing at teaching this fundamental value.
I want to make it simple. We want to parent kind kids. Kind kids do kind things.
What do kind kids do?
What are kind things kind kids sometimes do? I brainstormed a list of the sort of kind things I hope my kids will do as they grow up. Here’s my list, but make your own.
Things a kind child might do:
- See the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria and go sit with him.
- Make a card for the friend that’s going through a tough time.
- Draw a picture for Mom or Dad when they see he/she is upset.
- Try to make baby laugh when they are fussy.
- Vacuum the living room when Mom and Dad are really stressed.
- Give up the last piece of their favorite cake to a friend or loved one.
- Notice the kid getting picked on at school, and stand up for him/her.
When I finished with this list, I had some answers. Maybe I don’t know how to define kindness, but I think I know what it looks like.
Maybe your list is different, and you’ll come to some different conclusions about kindness. However, here’s what I noticed in my list.
What does kindness look like?
A kind kid:
- Notices the feelings of others, such as by seeing someone lonely, upset, or stressed (this is empathy) and imagines ways of making it better.
- Takes responsibility for the role they can play in making the world a little bit happier.
- Has the courage to act on their empathy, even when it costs them some sacrifice, such as delaying play, not sitting with the popular kids, or giving up that last piece of cake (this is forbearance).
I sat with observations of kindness for a bit. One more thought occurred. Have you ever seen a child volunteer to help with a scowl on their face? It only happens when they’re being bribed.
So, I add one more item to my list:
- A kind child takes joy in other people’s joy.
Kindness looks like: imagination, empathy, responsibility, courage, forbearance, and joy.
My list isn’t the list I thought I’d write. Is your list similar or different?
In the weeks and months to come, I’m going to keep bringing it back to these traits. How do we teach imagination and empathy? Courage and forbearance? Responsibility and joy?
In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your lists.