Every day the media bombards us with the bad side of humanity. Terrorism, murder, rape, child abuse, cruelty to animals. The list goes on. Among all the bad news though, there is often a little reminder that most of us are naturally kind.
Good news stories at the end of the local news, awards for unsung heroes, news bites on certain websites. Hashtags that take the world by storm, particularly following terrible events. The #illRideWithYou hashtag that has been trending over the past few days is a great example.
On Monday, I took Libby to a singing group that we go to every week. We arrived a bit late and sat at the back and after a few minutes, Libby got up to go and get herself a musical instrument to play. After a few weeks of me reminding her, she has started to get one for Lia as well, so she came back with three maracas, two for her and one for Lia. Shortly afterwards, another family came and joined us at the back of the class so I asked Libby to give her spare instrument to their baby. She initially refused, but grudgingly did so after I’d asked her a few times.
The fact that persuading her to give something to someone else was quite difficult got me thinking about whether I should be doing more to teach her about being kind. We are always very insistent that she is polite and well behaved, but that’s not enough. I would be much more proud of both girls when they get older if they are kind than if they have successful careers. Which begs the question, is teaching kindness even possible, and if so, where do I start?
A quick Google told me that there have been several experiments conducted on this matter and the overwhelming conclusion is that kindness can be taught. Predominantly, we learn to be kind by relating to other people. This may be because we’ve been in their shoes. We might empathise with someone’s loneliness if we’ve felt alone ourselves, or step in to help someone being attacked if we’ve been the victim in the past. We are also more likely to step in if we identify with certain characteristics of a person, and we can be taught to recognise the traits that we have in common with everyone.
As the girls get older, I intend to get them involved in volunteering. They will also have pocket money that they will have to earn for doing something to help, not necessarily around the house but helping somebody that needs it. That might mean collecting shopping for a neighbour, reading with a sibling or even just stacking the dishwasher or feeding the cat. I will insist that a small proportion of their pocket money is given to charity too, which should give them a sense of social responsibility.
None of this is practical at the moment though, Libby is only two and a half after all. So my question is this, are you teaching kindness to your children or have you done so? I’d really love to hear any ideas on encouraging kindness from an early age, or success stories of children being kind to each other without being prompted.