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What is kindness



Patience and kindness are always appreciated, but with many families spending more time together in close quarters, they’re essential

Karen Teig-Morris

Karen Teig-Morris (far left) of Walden, believes teaching kindness to her six and three-year-old daughters is an essential part of daily life.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind."
-Henry James

Kindness can be defined as "the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate." Tell that to a young child, however, and more than likely, you'll get a blank stare in return. Children, elementary-school-aged and younger, typically do not grasp abstract concepts like that of 'kindness,' until it's presented to them more concretely and tangibly. Instead of asking a young child, "what is kindness?" a better way to phrase such a question could be:

What does kindness look like?

"If you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else up."
-
Booker T. Washington

Many Hudson Valley parents choose to define kindness by what it looks like rather than its abstract definition. By doing this, they give their children models that they can look to and emulate each day.

Victoria Valencia of Wallkill has two adult children and two younger kids, aged six and three-and-a-half. She defines kindness as being nice, having good manners, and helping others. "It's how you treat people," she said.

Defining kindness using child-friendly language, as Valencia does, is essential to helping young kids develop a broader understanding of what compassion is. Many parents won't hesitate to tell a young child to be nice, but upon further reflection, perhaps parents should ask themselves if their child knows what that means.

READ MORE: How to teach children lovingkindness meditation

Why do kindness and empathy matter?

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."
-Plato 

Jillian Eisloeffel of Pine Bush has two teenage stepchildren and two younger kids, aged six and five. She combines lessons on kindness with lessons on empathy, which is a tough, yet vital concept for young children to comprehend. "Kindness matters because everyone has their struggles," said Eisloeffel. "Something as simple as a smile can turn someone's day around."

In the case of Karen Teig-Morris of Walden, teaching kindness to her six and three-year-old daughters is an essential part of daily life in her home due to her need to help facilitate the development of her older daughter's social skills. Her daughter has high-functioning autism. "My daughter sometimes has a tough time seeing beyond herself," said Teig-Morris, "so we work extra hard to remind her about how her actions affect others and how she makes others feel."

Teaching empathy and kindness to children

"Never be so busy as not to think of others."
-Mother Teresa

Just like learning to read or add and subtract, acting in a kind, empathetic manner is a skill that typically requires both teaching and practice before achieving mastery. And even then, there are always be more lessons learned, more growth to be achieved, as well as making mistakes along the way. So how can parents facilitate this learning for our children?

While character education is typically part of the curriculum in most public schools, practicing those social skills they learn at school in the home is almost always beneficial to a young child.

Valencia has daily discussions with her two youngest children about the importance of kindness, using the context of sibling rivalry to help paint a relatable picture on the importance of showing compassion. She also models for them what caring should look like. "Even though they love each other and are inseparable, they do constantly pester one another," she said. "We have numerous discussions, as well as role-playing practice about sharing, talking nicely to each other, and apologizing when feelings get hurt."

Teig-Morris teaches her daughters what kindness and empathy truly mean by real-world applications of both concepts, particularly around the holiday season when children often get wrapped up in receiving rather than giving. "When Elf on a Shelf became popular, I felt I needed to find a different approach," Teig-Morris said.

Enter Eowyn, the Kindness Elf.

"Every day after Thanksgiving, Eowyn, arrives," said Teig-Morris. "From then until Christmas, my daughters find her each morning and read a message she leaves that we hope will inspire them to do a good deed. Some days we donate items to a shelter, others we make and send cards to people special to us. Some days we use kind words or attempt to make someone laugh in some way."

Eisloeffel teaches kindness to her children by emphasizing its importance through questioning. For Eisloeffel, the first question she asks her daughter after school each day isn't, "How was your day?" but instead, "How did you show kindness at school today?" This question is often followed up with an equally important one: "How did someone else show kindness toward you?"

As we teach our children to be kind to others, we cannot forget also to emphasize the importance of expecting kindness in return. They deserve it, too! 

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator, and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Medium @doublesmom77.



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