After a fun morning at our local elementary school playground, my daughter stopped me as we walked to the car: “Mommy, what do those letters say?”
Chloe is ugly. That’s what they said. In big letters, flanking the entrance to the playground. All children on campus would step over those words as they raced to recess the following day.
My heart just sank. Should I use this as the teaching moment it so obviously is, or should I hightail it out of here after fabricating a rosier version of those spiteful words?
Kindness Actually Matters
Y’all, childhood didn’t look so good on me. I had to shop in the hefty section — no slim-fit jeans for me. I either donned my mother’s sweaters, always with a pin affixed to the lapel (so chic), or I dressed as an archaeologist (because #goals). For goodness sake, I asked my parents for a spike haircut in fourth grade, AND THEY LET IT HAPPEN. I am no stranger to the cruelty kids can dish out and the devastating long-term effects it can have.
Today, everyone seems to be boiling over with outrage. The comments sections of Internet articles and blog posts are littered with hateful remarks. We shame one another from behind the security of our computer screens. Politicians and public figures spew shudder-inducing language at one another. In an age when hostility and volatility have become the norm, it is time we take some action. We’ve got to do better.
Y’all, we need to teach our children that kindness matters. It truly does.
Raising Kind Kids
As parents, we sprinkle words like “gifted,” “elite,” and “advanced” when boasting about our children. We highlight athletic achievements and pour our time and financial resources into club sports, dance lessons, and tutors. We pack our children’s schedules with enriching activities in hopes of raising the shiniest, brightest star. An “A” on an exam earns a celebratory dinner; scoring the winning goal of the tournament is met with an eruption of cheer. Academic and extracurricular accomplishments matter, but most of us would agree raising kind kids matters more. Are we inadvertently prioritizing the wrong things? Are we sending the wrong message to our children unintentionally? I know I’ve been guilty of this.
So, why don’t we reward kindness? Sitting with the child who is all alone in the cafeteria deserves the highest of accolades. Helping a classmate pick up the contents of a spilled folder. Walking a friend to the nurse when he or she is feeling ill. These acts are all deserving of equal, if not greater, amounts of praise than a successful spelling test in my book, and yet it doesn’t seem to be given.
As parents, we are up against a myriad of obstacles when it comes to shaping our children into decent human beings, but that doesn’t mean we should wave the white flag. Raising kind and compassionate children starts at home, and it starts early.
Don’t get me wrong — I am no Mother Teresa. Far, far from it. I stomp around the house when my husband calls to say he’ll be late. I forget loved ones’ birthdays and anniversaries — at least I DID before Facebook starting helping me out with that one (thanks, Mark!). Try as I might, I cannot always contain my road rage. I snap at my children before taking a deep breath to calm myself down. I feel those ugly jealousy vibes bubble to the surface while I peruse Instagram any given Saturday.
But seeing those words, in loopy grade-school handwriting, plain as day and with no foreseeable intention other than to hurt and humiliate a sweet, young girl awakened a resolve in this mama. I can do better. I can teach my children to be better. We ALL can.
- By using kind and respectful language in the Starbucks drive-thru. Remaining calm and doling out all the grace when my order isn’t just so. Remaining flexible when things go awry (and y’all know all the things WILL go awry). Holding the door for strangers and thanking those who show me the same courtesy. Maybe even complimenting that stranger’s beautiful jacket.
- Highlighting my husband’s accomplishments and strengths, and showing patience with his shortcomings. He is the picture of graciousness and gratitude, and believe me, I am no angel. He deserves grace, and my children need to see me give it freely.
- Avoiding gossip in front of my children — in fact, avoiding gossip PERIOD. (This will not come easy to me; I told you, I am no saint.) How can I expect them to understand that their words have great impact on the hearts of others if I speak critically to and about folks?
- Choosing a less fortunate family to sponsor and taking my children shopping with me to choose the perfect gifts. Focusing our energy outward, rather than inward.
- Showing empathy to others and encouraging my children to think about how they might feel in a similar situation. A classmate was teased for having a potty accident during rest time? How would YOU feel if you peed your pants at school? How could you help to make your friend feel better?
- Filling their burgeoning vocabularies with feeling words — and not just mad and happy. What do disappointment and frustration look like? Or helplessness or anxiousness?
- Asking them what they learned at school, but ONLY after asking them who they treated with kindness throughout the day. Recognizing kindness in their daily interactions. Praising the heck out it. Asking them how they plan to make someone feel happy today.
- Celebrating our differences.
In the end, I told her the truth. I explained that those words were unkind and unnecessary. I asked how she thought Chloe might feel upon seeing those words when she returned to school the next day. We talked about raising others up with our words and actions rather than bringing them down.
And then we used every remaining drop in our water bottles to wash those ugly words away.