Teach­ing kind­ness as a core value

Fig­ur­ing out where kind­ness ranks on the to-do list

Thornhill Post - - Parent To Parent - JOANNE KATES Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the direc­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

I am of­ten asked by par­ents: “Does your camp have nice kids?” “Are there nice kids in that cabin?”

Both of which ques­tions make me sad. Who am I to play God and de­cide whether a child is nice or not nice? Who am I to sit in judg­ment of a child that some­body loves?

It’s not only an un­kind­ness to la­bel kids, it’s also in­ac­cu­rate be­cause the judg­ment fails to take into ac­count that chil­dren change. It’s in the na­ture of child­hood and grow­ing up.

Many fac­tors in­flu­ence how chil­dren change. Trau­mas — such as di­vorce or death of a loved one — are such pro­found stres­sors that they can bring out neg­a­tive en­ergy, anger and hos­til­ity.

Happy events — like get­ting into the school of their choice or mak­ing de­sired new friends — can grow con­fi­dence and self­es­teem and make kids more re­laxed and pos­i­tive.

But those kinds of events are mostly out­side of our lo­cus of con­trol. What in­ter­ests me are the fac­tors we can con­trol. Can we build nice kids? If yes, how? Or do we just have to wait and hope? Can we re­quire kids to be nice? Of course we can. At camp we do it ev­ery day all day and we know it works be­cause we ask about it. Any­one can do this, it’s pretty sim­ple.

We build nice kids first and fore­most by valu­ing it pretty much above all else, con­scious or un­aware.

Ev­ery fam­ily, ev­ery school, ev­ery com­mu­nity has val­ues — whether ar­tic­u­lated or si­lent. It starts with stat­ing one’s val­ues. If you say out loud that in­clu­sion, re­spect and car­ing mat­ter to you, those words be­come your val­ues, be­come your road map as a par­ent. They be­come the moral compass that sets your course, the sign­posts along the way. But we all know schools, gov­ern­ments ad fam­i­lies that have one set of val­ues in the PR ma­te­rial (hand­books, posters and party chat) and the real ones in the real world.

Step two re­quires living the val­ues you es­pouse. Treat­ing oth­ers that way so your kids can see nice in ac­tion, how pos­si­ble it is to do and the re­wards it reaps.

Step three is re­quir­ing nice of kids.

It’s too easy for us to let it go when kids aren’t car­ing or in­clu­sive or re­spect­ful. We let it go be­cause we’re in a hurry, they have to be some­where, we have to be some­where, the homework needs do­ing, and the din­ner needs cooking.

The prob­lem is that ev­ery time we let it go, we com­mu­ni­cate our val­ues loud and clear — and that nice isn’t at the top of the list. Bingo, we’re not build­ing nice kids.

When we sit down and talk about what wasn’t nice and ask them why that hap­pened, we tele­graph our val­ues clearly. And they get it.

A fam­ily, as a small com­mu­nity with its own val­ues, is a petri dish for teach­ing nice — or not. This is a ques­tion of stan­dards.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence chil­dren mostly like to meet the stan­dards that are set for them. A lot of us par­ents th­ese days want to breed hockey stars and jazz dancers and aca­demic win­ners. We may say we don’t, but if you an­a­lyze the stuff we pri­or­i­tize for our kids, we do. How high on the list is nice? Does kind­ness rank above good grades? Or be­low it, and af­ter ex­tracur­ric­u­lars?

This mat­ters, be­cause you can talk a good game about kind­ness, but un­less the com­mu­nity you lead has nice near the top of its agenda, you’re not re­quir­ing it.

Kids are ob­ser­vant. They know our true val­ues by the walk we walk, not by the talk we talk. And they will fol­low us there, as kids do.

Is it pos­si­ble to build nice kids? Or do we just have to wait and hope?

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