In my (very) humble opinion, teaching children to be kind should be right up there with teaching them to walk, talk and not to push peas up their nose. Most of us do try and teach our children to be kind. Things like not hitting other children, stroking a pet nicely, or taking turns with a toy at playgroup are all ways of teaching kindness.
But in this post, I want to talk about the type of kindness that reaches out to other people.
Why be kind?
My ex-husband laughed when I said my biggest aspiration for our baby was that s/he would grow up to be kind. Apparently, kindness isn’t an attribute worthy of aspiration. According to him anyway. I rather think it’s the opposite. I would much rather have a child that treats everybody s/he meets with kindness. The kind of child that would notice someone sitting all alone, and try to strike up a conversation. And the kind of child who wouldn’t walk past somebody in pain without offering help.
Kindness can’t be bought, it can’t be traded, but it can be spread. A simple action of holding a door for a person behind you, makes that person more likely to hold the door for someone behind them. And so on and so on. It doesn’t take much to be kind. It doesn’t cost anything, but showing it can mean so much to another person.
Random acts of kindness.
Random acts of kindness don’t have to be planned, and they don’t have to cost a lot, if anything. Sometimes just an offer of help can make all the difference to someone’s day.
Last week, parked next to me in a supermarket car park, was a Mum struggling with her very new baby. He was screaming his little head off, and she was holding him, trying to soothe him and collapse the chassis of her pram at the same time. Not an easy feat for even the most confident or seasoned parent.
I smiled at her and asked her if she was ok. She smiled a watery smile back and said “not really, no.” I asked her if she needed some help. She said no, it was just that her little boy needed feeding. But she couldn’t feed him until she’d put the pram in her boot, but he was too upset to let her do that and she knew she shouldn’t have tried to go shopping alone…
I could see this escalating quickly. She hadn’t taken a breath yet, and I knew more was coming. It’s hard to stop once you open those floodgates, even a tiny bit. I’ve been there.
We’re all struggling as parents, some are just better at hiding it.
I told her that I’d been there, but I didn’t tell her Ruby screamed for 19 hours a day. I didn’t want to frighten the poor girl. So I just told her that it wasn’t too many years ago that I was crying in a car park. Because I’d tried to go shopping with a newborn who never stopped screaming, and felt as though I was losing my mind. A lovely lady had seen me struggling, put my shopping in my boot and went and got me a cup of tea whilst I fed Ruby. I was so grateful for that woman that day.
Then I told this new Mum that I’d like to do the same for her.
Mum was dispatched into her car to feed her baby, I sent the girls back into the shop for a bottle of water and a banana, and I collapsed her pram for her. I told her that she was doing a great job, that the outings will get better, and to look after herself.
I don’t know who she was, and I don’t know whether I made her day any better. But I hope I did.
But my favourite bit of that encounter, was that my girls didn’t even question why we were helping this lady. They just accepted that she needed help, and we were going to help her. And I love that.
The best way to teach kindness is
That’s basically it. If your children see you being kind and showing kindness to others, it becomes normal for them. It becomes an intrinsic part of who they are, and they show kindness towards other people naturally. They become the people who stop when their friend falls over on the playground to help. They become the people who hold a door for a stranger. And they become the kind of people who support other people.
I’m not saying that mine are a perfect example, or that they are always kind. Because they aren’t. They are children, and they are still learning. And I will keep teaching.
Never has teaching children to be kind has been more important than right now. I started writing this post a few days ago, but recent news has changed the direction of it somewhat.
It’s a cruel world.
On the 15th February 2020, news came in that Caroline Flack had taken her own life. Straight away, Twitter was in uproar about how she had been treated by the media in recent months. And you know what? The people tweeting weren’t wrong. The UK media had plenty to say about Caroline, and none of it was kind. The woman was hounded. She had salacious details of her life splashed across every news outlet, most of it unconfirmed and speculative for “entertainment”. And the majority of it was absolutely foul. As were the majority of the Tweets about her in the months leading up to her death. The whole “Cancel Culture’ thing has got a lot to answer for too.
“A modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions. It is caused by a critical mass of people who are quick to judge and slow to question. It is commonly caused by an accusation, whether that accusation has merit or not.” Via Urban Dictionary.
Nobody knows what did or didn’t happen in her personal life, because that’s what it was : personal. Just because she was in the public eye, doesn’t give us a right to know the ins and outs of every tiny aspect of her life. And it certainly doesn’t give people the right to write such horrific things about her.
Call it ‘news’, call it ‘rumours’, call it ‘trolling’ call it whatever you like, but it was horrific bullying. Pure and simple. And is damning proof that words DO hurt, and bullying has terrible consequences.
Click on the blue link to read about the consequences of bullying.
When will the media learn?
This kind of relentless bullying seems to be so common, which makes it even worse. In recent months, Jesy Nelson filmed a documentary about the bullying she was subjected to, and how it made her feel. But sadly, it hasn’t changed anything. People were shocked to start with, the outpouring of support directed towards her after it aired was phenomenal, but it won’t have healed Jesy’s scars. The media was happy to throw about hashtags purporting to support mental health awareness after her documentary was aired. But they didn’t learn anything from it.
Just like they didn’t learn anything when Prince Harry asked the press to stop hounding his wife. They continued printing stories, any stories, as long as there was a vague connection to Meghan. Is it any wonder he decided to move to Canada to protect his family from the media intrusion? I can’t say I blame him. Especially after the paparazzi hounded his Mother even after her death.
The media have so much power in how they shape the public’s perception of famous people, yet for some reason, their stories go unchecked. There is no real punishment for them printing lies, or doing incredibly underhand things to get their headlines. Essentially tabloids can print what they want, and maybe add a teeny retraction a week later buried in page 974 of their rag, if someone tries to sue them.
The tabloids have still not learned.
Within minutes of the news that Caroline had taken her life, people were reporting that the tabloid newspapers were hastily deleting articles. Their own articles, by the way, where they had dragged Caroline through the mud.
Deleting articles and tweets doesn’t mean that it never happened. You can remove words from the internet, but you can’t remove the damage those words have done. Putting a link to The Samaritans next to your articles isn’t a magical way of painting over the distress you’ve caused. To me, it’s almost an admission of guilt over how they treated her.
And yet, here we are not 24 hours later, and the tabloids have moved on to their next target*. And the whole thing will start all over again.
*I’m not adding links to these stories, because I don’t want to drive even one person towards the tabloid sites and contribute towards their financial gain.
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.Unknown.
This might have been true years ago, when words were just words. But now they have the power to influence people globally, within seconds of being uploaded to the internet. Now, these words aren’t a passing comment, they have a digital footprint, and even if they are deleted, they are still out there somewhere. Screenshots, printed copies, newspapers, email, messenger, WhatsApp, etc somewhere those articles still exist.
Be kind. Always.
I’ve been thinking pretty much non-stop about how we can possibly teach children to be kind, when we’re living in a world where grown adults are ripping other adults apart for the sake of a headline. Where the people with the power of the media behind them are teaching people that it’s ok to bully other people.
And yet, I still can’t think of any other way to teach our children to be kind than to show them us being kind. Kind to ourselves and kind to each other.
If you don’t want your children growing up into the kind of people who think it’s ok to target, troll and bully people online, don’t do it yourself.
Talk to them about the repercussions of what they say, type, write, share on and offline.
And maybe, in time, we’ll have a society that can just be kind.