Let’s take a moment to celebrate people of great kindness. We all know people of great kindness. They are our our parents, aunts or uncles, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors. They are our teachers, our leaders, and our mentors. I am so grateful for the multitude of people in my life who have taught me to be kind. Who is someone who showed you great kindness?
You don’t have to be well-known to have a huge impact on others but here is a list (in no particular order) of some of my favorite famous people of great kindness and strength. Who would you add to this list?
Ready for some good news? Kindness can be taught. It’s taught through modeling and discussion, and there are a lot of great recourses that concretely teach kindness. Every school I’ve visited has a school wide program aimed at teaching kindness and empathy towards others. In order for a program to work though it must be consistently taught throughout the school day and at home.
There are a lot of quick resources for kindness activities. For example Discovery Education has some good ideas on how to implement a program with a monthly theme and easy activities. Kindness curriculums don’t need to take up the school day, teachers barely have time as it is to get through the standards and lessons they planned. Quick mini lessons sprinkled throughout the week can be just as effective.
Team building activities, “clubs”, and service projects are other fun ways to get kids involved in kindness. For example, One year some of my third grade girls were having trouble getting along so I formed a lunch club and we worked on projects and games together. It was a great way to get to know my students better, and to help them get through a rough patch. Hosting clothing or food drives is another simple way to build empathy both at home and at school. Volunteer at local food pantries, hospitals, shelters, or other service organizations in your neighborhood. Build kindness and service into your daily life.
I know it may sound like I’m simplifying something that isn’t that simple. Teaching kindness is a team effort. It’s not a school’s or a teacher’s sole responsibility to teach kindness. Communities, neighborhoods, schools, parents, and families need to work in tandem. And lest I be called a Pollyanna, it’s important to note that sometimes there is a lot going against teaching kindness. Just do what you can do, where you are, with what you have. That’s all any of us can do.
One can certainly be kind without being vulnerable, but often an act of vulnerability with other person is a great kindness. This doesn’t mean you need to run out and share your deepest fears and sadness with relative strangers in the name of kindness. In fact, please don’t do that, you’ll get some appropriately alarmed reactions. But, if someone you care about shares their fears with you, be honored that they chose you to share with, and respond with empathy and openness.
Similarly, when a child or young adult decides to share something that is important to them with you, listen to them. Really listen. If they ask for advice tell them about your experiences and let them know they’re not alone. Can you imagine classrooms that are run with this in mind? I can because I’ve seen them in action. There are many amazing teachers out there teaching their students to be kind, open, appropriately vulnerable, and honest. As an adult, simply just showing that you’re human and make mistakes too is an act of vulnerability and often an act of kindness as well.
Be kind always, and be vulnerable when appropriate. Openness and empathy lead to happy children and consequently, to happy learners.
There are days, when even the kindest folks falter. There are days, when we make mistakes and stray from our best selves, maybe with a snarky remark, unkind words, or with gossip and criticism. We all make mistakes and by taking responsibility for our actions and making amends we can move forward and start again.
Sometimes however we run into folks who are unkind more often than they are kind. Sometimes we find ourselves face to face with someone who treats us unfairly with an aim to hurt us. We ask ourselves, why do they want to cause me pain? What did I do? The answer is that it’s really not about you. It’s about them, and only about them.
I believe we are born kind, and we learn hate. With that being said it’s hugely important to remember that a bully has most likely been bullied by someone else. They learned to do it somewhere, from someone. It’s not an excuse for their behavior but it’s an explanation.
We can teach our children to respond to unkindness with empathy and action. We do not need to let people treat us unkindly, but we can still address the situation with empathy, knowing that the bully is in pain too even if they are unaware of it.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
What can I do with my child to promote kindness, you ask? Well, let me tell you…
Create a kindness board
Have you ever heard of a vision board? A vision board is essentially a visual representation of all your dreams and goals. Similarly you can create a kindness board with tons of things your child relates to kindness. You can use magazines, print pictures of friends and family, etc…You can include kind people (both famous and not), kind actions, and other images of kindness. It could be fun to create a section for goals of kindness too! Brainstorm some things your child wants to do to show kindness towards others. Think volunteering, helping friends, giving thanks etc…
Read books about kindness and maybe even write some yourself
There are so many awesome books about kindness, but if you need a few ideas you can visit my post on books about kindness as a starting point. Use those books as inspiration and help your child use their creativity to create and illustrate their own story to teach kindness.
Get out into the community and volunteer
Find ways to get involved in your community! There are tons of volunteer opportunities for kids and adults. Whether you’re looking for a one-time or recurring opportunity there are always people that can use your help. Start by looking up organizations you’d like to help and give them a call!
Lead by example
If we want our children to be kind, we must be kind a well. Model gratitude, love, respect, and acceptance. Every. Single. Day.
When a child struggles with kindness (let’s face it we all do sometimes) it can be helpful to make a kindness chart with them. A kindness chart is essentially a behavior chart with a specific goal in mind. By noting kind behavior in a chart, the child can see when they’ve made good choices and when they made some mistakes. A physical chart can help them see how they are doing and adjust their behavior.
As promised I have compiled a few books that teach kindness. Although there are many great books out there, for the purpose of brevity I will list four. The first two books are suggestions for lower elementary readers, while the second two are for an older audience of young readers.
“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
A true classic for young readers. I love its focus on empathy and find my heart breaking a little for the giving tree every time I read it. The story reminds young readers to be grateful for the support they have, and to return love and kindness.
“Have you Filled a Bucket Today?” By Carol McCloud
This book uses the metaphor of filling up a bucket with your love, kindness, and positive actions. It encourages loving behavior by illustrating how our actions and words either “fill up” or “empty” our buckets.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Although perhaps above the reading level of younger children, it is accessible to them by reading aloud with an adult. The characters in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” and particularly relatable to children and the book has many lessons on kindness and navigating sibling relationships.
“Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
A more complex look into friendship, freedom and systemic oppression. It asks readers to think about how we as a part of a community within a broader society, show either love and kindness, or hate and subjugation. Because the story touches on a handful or sensitive (albeit very important issues) I suggest this story be saved for middle and high school readers.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
I have been thinking a lot about kindness. The experience of kindness is undoubtely integral to learning and flourishing. We cannot grow and learn in a classroom, in a home, or in a community where there is an absence of kindness. I believe that there is no more important endeavor than to be kind to others and to exercise empathy. I know that if kindness is my first goal, then everything else I strive to accomplish will be positively affected.
Let’s start at the beginning with a basic and important question. What is kindness? It seems like such a silly question, but it’s not. Let’s pretend for a moment that a child you care about asked you to answer that question. What would you say? How would you explain or summarize what kindness is? What would you hope they understood from your definition? Do you embody kindness in the way you would explain it to this child? If not, why not? If so, how so? You see, it’s not really a simple question because it involves so much action. In the next handful of posts I will be discussing the topic of kindness, and as kindness is action I would like to hear from my readers! Tell me, how do you define kindness?
What I’m Reading: Remember when I said I was reading “A Mind at a Time?” Well, I’m still working on it, and have found it to be very insightful. Levine describes learning dysfunction concisely, while blending in relatable stories about real children. I would recommend it for both educators and parents alike. Even if your child isn’t experiencing big problems at school, it’s an important read.
Building Confident Learners: I can’t stress enough how much kindness and empathy is important to the learning process. We need to teach our young people to be kind to themselves when they make a mistake, and in turn be kind to others when they are struggling. Remember, when interacting with a young person you never know what they will remember. Even the smallest things can become a big memory to them. Always. Be. Kind.
What Gives Me Joy: Family. I recently went back home to Wisconsin to visit family and I’m so grateful for the time, albeit short, I had with them. Then I got to come back home to my wonderful husband and fluffy dog! Life is good.