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Real Talk: Talking with teens about kindness - a mom's perspective

A mom talks about fostering kindness in teens

A mom talks about fostering kindness in teens

Get another perspective. Read a professional's answer to the same question.

The other day, my daughter and I saw a kindness wall at the end of local mall. It was filled with cards of ideas on how to be kind to others around the holidays, including things like donating to the local food pantry, sending a care package to a solider and letting someone go in front of you in line. As my daughter and I scoured the wall for the card we wanted, my daughter, Kit said I’d taught her to do these already and that it was hard to find a new one.

She had no idea I was working on a story about kindness, but there it was—how do you prepare teens to be kind in this world? Just by doing.

Our children watch us all the time. They see whether we smile at others and try to give people the benefit of the doubt on a tough day. They see us buy a gift for Toys for Tots or food for the food pantry. They also see us lose our cool in traffic and talk about the people in our lives.

If we handle the majority of situations in our lives with kindness, our kids learn how to do that too. Once, when I was driving with my daughter, someone cut her off.

“I hope you have a totally average day,” my daughter, Charlotte, said to the driver in reaction to the incident. I laughed. “A totally average day” is a kind way to be upset. I wish I had thought of that. My daughter found a way to react and remain on the side of kindness.

Kindness is contagious in the best way possible. On Thanksgiving, my daughters needed to buy something at our local CVS. When they returned, they beamed with happiness. They’d asked the cashier what his favorite candy bar was and then bought it for him. They told him they wanted to thank him for working on Thanksgiving. He told them it made his day. Such a simple gesture, but a kindness that made someone else feel noticed and appreciated. They said he was so happy with the next customer—contagious kindness.

READ MORE: Kindness in Dutchess County

When my children were little, one of our cousins spent several holidays in the hospital. We saw video and pictures of how happy he was when Santa visited his hospital bed and others came around caroling. My children asked how we could help our local hospital the next holiday season. They saw how important kindness was for their cousin and wanted to do the same thing for someone else.

Kindness is also often learned when children see what happens when people are not kind. My son has autism. When he was younger and had fewer social skills, people were not always kind to him. His sisters became his champions. They helped him navigate the playgrounds and parties. They found ways to keep his environment a little quieter; a little more manageable. They sometimes spoke to potential friends for him to break a barrier.

His sisters also became champions of others when they saw that someone was not being treated right. Each time I observed one of these acts of kindness, I talked with my children about it later. I let them know that I saw their kindness. I l told them how important it was that they did this. I talked about how those acts of kindness can ripple and make other people pause and be kind in the future.

My son, Peter, who has become more social and verbal in recent years, has also been known to step in for friends who can’t talk as much for themselves. He tells me it is because people helped him and he wants to help.

The kindness comes full circle. As I watch my teens do these simple acts of kindness, I want to be like them. I want to make sure I take the moment, I share the smile, I think of another person first. The ripples continue.

Patrice Athanasidy, who lives with her family in Westchester, has written for numerous publications in the tri-state area. She is an adjunct instructor at Manhattan College in the communication department.

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