How do we talk to her about this kind of stuff? Mike asked me as we sat listening to the morning news, stunned, saddened, numb. How do we teach her about this without scaring her? Do we explain what’s going on? What do we say?
He defers to me often when it comes to child development issues. He may be a development officer at his place of work, but here at home, I would say my role falls more into that category. How do you handle this situation? How do you teach them that? Why does everything in our house end up so sticky? (I don’t have a developmental answer for that last one. Kids are just gross.)
We don’t tell her about it, I say. She doesn’t need to know “about it” at all. Not now. Not for as long as we can help it. I don’t want to know about it, actually. I want to help, I want to serve, I want to change, I want to love. But sometimes I just don’t want to know about all the sadness.
Kindness, I tell him. We teach her about kindness.
Kindness. That word rolls off my tongue so frequently these days. With school comes more social interaction. Social interaction brings conflict, relationship struggles. “Be kind, Caroline.”
So what does that mean to her? Some days it means sharing when we don’t want to. Often these days, it means inviting a new friend to play with you. Young children can be mean and selfish. It’s developmental, not cruel. They want what they want for themselves, and they want it now. So I must remind her to let that friend into her play. Give him a turn. Help her play with you. Be kind.
But kindness is so much more than just sharing and taking turns. Kindness is not just something you do. Kindness is something you feel. To show kindness, you first have to understand how that person is feeling. That is the tough part. Again, children are very egotistical. To think of another’s feelings is not natural, not immediate. It takes work and reminders. You have to talk about it all the time. And you have to first understand your own feelings, as well as others, before you can make the step to be kind. Having an awareness of emotions and how they affect relationships is so vital in developing and growing.
An article in the New York Times was shared just recently that spoke to just that. Research is showing that children need to have strong social emotional development before they can fully reach their academic potential.
“It’s not just about how you feel, but how are you going to solve a problem, whether it’s an academic problem or a peer problem or a relationship problem with a parent.”
Emotions are not fluff. They are the backbone to relationships and problem solving and learning. We must not ignore this vital element to the growth of a young child because that child will be an adult one day, in a very confusing world, and having an awareness of one’s own emotions as well as that of others is an essential part of humanity and community development.
So back to the original question. How do we talk to her about this stuff? We read books. When I don’t know what to say, I turn to a book. Words speak to me. A well written word can flow through you with the warmth of a bowl of chicken noodle soup. It is calming, healing, familiar. Turning to a book to talk about the “tough stuff” is comforting to a child as well. There is safety in the pages of a familiar character. I recently came across a list of books for children to teach about kindness. Some were familiar, many were new. I immediately went to my library website to place a hold. One of our favorite book series is Elephant and Piggie. These two lovable characters are best buds. The books are funny to both children and adults alike. But they also show many different situations two friends can find themselves in and how they work through that. Books with friendships are an excellent place to start when talking about kindness.
But a comment in the post linked above got me thinking. A reader said those books are great, but truthfully, we can teach kindness and empathy with any book. All you have to do is ask, how do you think they are feeling? Pausing the story to not just think about how you feel when you read this, but actually thinking about the feelings of others. Asking how that character might be feeling, based on how that would make you feel.
That is empathy. That is kindness. That is what I want to teach my child. I may not have the answers for the turmoil, the strife, the political rhetoric. But I can teach her to think about how others are feeling. I can teach her to be kind.
God asks us, as we leave our homes, as we grow and learn and interact with the world, he asks us to be kind, everywhere we go, to everyone we meet, because that is how we show him our love. When I am sad and scared, I can find strength in knowing I am teaching my child, every day, how to grow into the type of person who will be kind.
So maybe we don't all know how to be kind. We can at least have hope that our children do.