With Ariane De Bonvoisin

Although the pandemic has impacted us globally, it’s changed our individual lives in vastly different ways. No two people have had the same exact experience, and because of that, everyone’s emotional wellbeing is at different levels. But in spite of our differences and what we’ve faced in the past several weeks, most people would agree that kindness can go a long way in helping us all carry on. We’ve seen this exhibited in many wonderful ways – from our weekly NHS applause in the UK, to people making masks, to parents sharing videos of homeschooling challenges, or simply telling a joke to get a family member to laugh. Communities have become more aware of others, in big and small ways. 

However, a weighty challenge impeding our inclination towards kindness has been an underlying sense of uncertainty. It’s human nature to ask the question “am I safe?” and this crisis has caused our foundations to be rocked, from health to income to routines and more. It can be difficult to be kind if we don’t feel safe. Many parents may be asking themselves what they can do to raise kind kids, especially in these distressing times.

So, how can we nurture kindness in our children? 

5 Ways to Raise a Kind Kid

  1. Role model self kindness – kids are absorbing the information they see
  2. Accept all emotional states – let your kids have bad days 
  3. Shield Up – Imagine an invisible shield that only lets in love and kindness
  4. Wrap up the Day – “pull” out negative emotions at bedtime 
  5. Expect kindness in the world

1. Role Model Self Kindness

The idea of not being good enough is common for kids. Self kindness is the antidote to that, but it needs to come from the parents first. Kids need parents who are filling up their own bucket with kindness. When kids are exposed to parents who have guilt and negative self talk or self punishment, they absorb that. By positive role-modeling, parents set the scene and give children the tools they need to love themselves. 

Kids will learn to be kind through observation, so make sure to create experiences where kids can see you be kind, and where kids can choose to be kind too. From the way you treat the cashier when you get groceries, to the way you react to your reflection in the mirror, kids are absorbing the information they see. 

2. Accept All Emotional States

With many families still feeling the tension from lockdown, it’s understandable that household stress may be running high. If your kids are sporting sour faces and grumpy attitudes, or if they’re fighting more with their siblings, it can be challenging to be patient. You may immediately try to cheer them up and turn those scowls into smiles. Or you may lose your cool entirely and join them in having a down-in-the-dumps day.

The truth is, the kindest approach is to allow kids (and ourselves) to experience challenging emotions. So often, kids aren’t allowed to simply be human. Parents frequently want their kids to be cheerful and carefree, even when they themselves are not. When parents stifle kids’ true feelings, they may end up growing up to believe that something’s wrong with them unless they’re always happy. 

Sadness and anger are healthy emotional states too, so let your kids know that all emotions are welcome. Don’t expect a sunny disposition at all times. The kindest act is to accept your child exactly as they are, because this is one of the first steps to encourage self-kindness.

3. Shield Up

Kids aren’t always the nicest, right? So what do you do when nasty comments arise? Try to help your kids see that underneath unkindness is always a cry for help. Remember: hurt kids, hurt others. But it’s also important to arm kids with an active response to unkindness. Try teaching your kids to “Shield Up” and imagine an invisible shield that only lets in love and kindness. The other emotions bounce off the shield to the other person for them to learn how they feel. This gives kids a tool kit to use when they get into difficult situations. If someone is unkind, kids can choose to let the comments bounce off their shields. 

4. Wrap up the Day 

It’s important for kids to recognise that feelings are like clouds in the sky, and they’ll move through them. Just because you’re sad now doesn’t mean you will be forever, and these feelings don’t define who kids are. It can be useful to do a “Wrap up the Day” exercise with your kids at bedtime. Ask your kids if they have any emotions they’d like to let go of, and where they are located in their body. If they have any yucky feelings, it can be helpful to give them a name or a shape. Then take deep breaths together and pretend to “pull” out the negative emotions from their bodies. Once they are feeling calm, they’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep. 

5. Expect Kindness in the World

Most parents speak of how unsafe it is in the world, and want to shelter their kids. This can be especially tempting given the global pandemic. But even amidst this crisis, it’s important to give kids a model of the world that’s kind, loving and safe. Yes, there are risks we need to be aware of, but there are also actionable ways to stay safe. And yes, some people may choose to do bad things, but we can still have compassion for them. Teach your kids to always ‘look for the helpers,’ as Fred Rogers always said. The more we teach kids that this is a kind world, the more they’ll go out into the world expecting kindness. 

A Future Full of Kindness

Especially during this pandemic, it can be easy to view kindness in conventional terms, like outward acts towards other people. It’s important to remind ourselves that the true heart of being kind to others actually begins with being kind to yourself. If you want to be outwardly kind, you have to start from the inside. When kids learn to love themselves, they feel mentally healthy, and if they know how to be kind to themselves, they will naturally be kind to others.

Parents should make a point of doing kind acts for their kids, too. We’ve all been handling a lot lately, and it’s nice to create magical moments for your children. Maybe let them build a fort in the lounge, or eat pancakes for dinner. Also encourage your kids to think of what good might come out of this crisis? Be honest with them about what’s going on, but also  invite them to think of the positives that might be on the horizon. Empower your kids to come up with ways they can be kind, and present a bright future ahead. Even with uphill challenges, we have the opportunity to live in a world that’s full of hope, where everyone is raised to be kind. 

Ariane is an expert on life skills and navigating change and is an author, speaker and coach. Her book series for kids, Giggles and Joy, can be purchased on Amazon. For more info, please visit her website: https://www.arianedebonvoisin.com