Teaching Kindness in an Unkind World – Can We Do Better?
Has there ever been a better time to teach children about kindness? It seems to be so sorely lacking in the world these days. You cannot fight hate with hate and, sadly, it is actually hard to teach an old dog new tricks. We must start with our youth from the time they are so very young. Our curriculum, lessons about socialization and interactions with children must be infused with messages about acceptance and kindness.
Perhaps we need to take a hard look at children’s literature and let go of our nostalgia for stories that we grew up with that teach difference, fear and hate. We know better now. We teach fear of difference when we read stories that pit giants against smaller people or ugly witches against beautiful princesses. It is not a huge leap from those stories to “anyone different is scary and dangerous.”
Not every child has to love each other – that is not reality – but every child needs to be taught to treat others gently and with good intentions. When very young children say, “I don’t want to be her/his friend” in the variety of ways they express it, we need to respond by saying, “You still have to be kind.” We need to model that kindness in every interaction. Children see adults make faces at each other. They hear us when we are being unkind. Modeling acceptance of others must be a first priority in our requirements of early childhood staffs and of ourselves when we are parenting. We put up with mean people and those people teach our children to be mean. They do not belong in classrooms.
Children’s efforts should be praised. People who feel good about themselves have less of a need to oppress others. From the time they are young, we need to accept who they are in the present time and stop demeaning their efforts in an attempt to rush their ability to learn. It is beyond disturbing to watch adults criticize a child for the inability to write the perfect letter A today. The child will get there. It is the process, the effort and the willingness to try again that counts. Your students, your child, is someone today and that person needs to be celebrated.
Look at everything you do with children – what you read, what you watch, how you interact, what toys are used – and think, “Does this give any message that hate is good, difference is bad, fear should be our mindset or everyone doesn’t matter? Does this divide rather than unite?”
The children are the future and we need to have a safer and loving one.
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