“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” –Nelson Mandela
Kindness is something we all respond to. When we come into contact with kind people, our radar goes up, we take notice, and we are affected–positively. Biologically speaking, being the giver of a kind act creates a wave of the feel good hormone, oxytocin, and according to research (and my own personal experience) makes us repeat compassionate givers.
In some recent studies I’ve conducted, we have found that when people perform behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—their bodies produce more oxytocin. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: Being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate. -Dacher Keltner
If being kind is so good for us, then why do we witness such hatefulness in this world?
Generally speaking, it boils down to childhood. How you were treated and the way you were responded to by your primary caregivers has a huge effect on your kindness. For example, if you were raised in a family that barked orders at you, demanded you behave in a particular way, created a strict set of rules, and did not give you much opportunity to express yourself, you might find that being kind to others is not your first instinct. If anything, you may have established a belief that adults, or people in general, are nasty and controlling and you must protect yourself at all costs. If kindness was not offered freely to you in a no strings attached way, your mode of survival may be to withdraw, be suspicious of anyone’s kindness, and put on a tough exterior.
How do we change this?
As with any big change, one must first recognize there is a problem.
I think anyone reading this knows there is a kindness deficit towards our children…so check, we recognize it.
Secondly, there must be an acceptance of one’s part in creating the problem. This is the tough one. We don’t like to call ourselves out. We like to hide, defend, make excuses, and run away. But if we are ever to bring peace to this world and peace into our homes, we MUST accept how terribly unkind widely accepted parenting practices are and seek alternatives.
Instead of yelling, shaming, hitting, isolating, ignoring, or punishing your child when he or she does something you feel warrants a reaction say this simple statement to yourself before making a move or uttering a word:
“I want my child to feel connected to me and to know that I love him, even when things aren’t going well.”
Imagine what this type of interaction would look like versus one that is filled with rage, frustration, or annoyance. Imagine the internal dialogue of your son when he is met with a helpful and kind parent after he accidentally spills his drink. Imagine the internal dialogue of your daughter when you hug her tightly and without judgment, patiently listen to her explain why she is so upset and frustrated about something that happened to her. Imagine how connected your child will feel to you when you kindly say things like:
I understand what you are saying.
I can see how you would feel that way.
How would you like to see this day unfold?
What are your opinions about this situation?
Responding to your loved one as a person instead of reacting to their behavior inevitably creates a deeper connection and a more meaningful relationship. A relationship your child will want to keep and preserve for years to come. Isn’t that what we ultimately want with our children? Strong, lasting, mutually loving relationships?
Just think for a few minutes about the people in your life you like the most. Are they rude, hurtful, and mean towards you or are they generally pleasant, kind, helpful, and engaging?
Put kindness into action every single day
Hug your children. Look them in their eyes and smile. Listen to their ideas, their wishes, their interests.
Share stories about your own childhood–the things you liked, the places you visited. Let them know your fears, triumphs, goals, and failures.
Be honest with them.
Apologize when you make mistakes or hurt their feelings.
Talk to them in a tone of voice that you would use with a friend whose favor you seek.
Surprise them with things they like, no strings attached kind of surprises.
Be helpful anytime you can.
Choose connection over control.
Kindness is free to give yet provides so much worth.
Children are the ultimate mirrors. Will yours reflect kindness back into the world?