One of the best ways to teach children a fundamental character trait such as kindness is to model it, and today we invite you to consider this process as a “two way street”.
Children have magical lessons to teach us. If we can get to a place where we are willing to listen, they can transform us, making us even better parents. I fondly remember an occasion when I experienced just such a lesson—
I had recently become a solo parent. I was exhausted, running on little sleep, overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a parent and as a high school special education teacher. I was concerned about my daughter’s first day at a new day care, and I felt frantic. I needed to get through traffic to get her to the facility, get settled in, and hopefully still make it to school on time.
I was agitated and therefore primed for someone to misstep. Yes, I was in a mood—
An “I dare you to make a mistake!” kind of mood.
Then, just as anticipated, another driver ‘transgressed against me!’ He had the nerve to not only pull out in front of me but to then move at a snail’s pace forcing me to use my breaks and dramatically slow my speed. I was on fire! And I had to tell that driver just what I thought of him. I don’t remember all that I said, but I do remember that it included the declaration-
‘What a JERK!’
Immediately from the back seat, I heard the concerned voice of my five-year old. She was upset but remained calm as she spoke to me. With kindness in her voice, she suggested, “Mom, why don’t we just call him a ‘Gan-fa-doodle.” I do not know where this combination of sounds/syllables came from, but I Immediately knew what they meant.
She was telling me that while I could feel my emotion of anger, it was not kind to use such harshness with another person. She was hopeful that something less cruel would work for me.
Looking back, I can say that indeed road rage was an unhealthy aspect of my persona, and although I felt justified, her plea for kindness overwhelmed me. I heeded her advice and stopped the name calling; for a while she would continue to remind me that s(he) was just being a Gan-fa-doodle!
For my daughter, my behavior was simply unacceptable and while her creative manner of handling it was unique to her, the compassion that accompanied it was not unlike what I have come to expect from little ones.
Children are simply closer to truth; untarnished, they are still highly cognizant of our beauty and worthiness.
As such, they are also extremely trusting and impressionable. For this reason, we as parents would benefit from not only yielding to their example now and then, but also by remaining ever vigilant in providing the best ‘example’ ourselves.
And as they will remind us, extending kindness toward others is paramount.
Wayne Dyer made an insightful observation about being so angry when others offend us. He tells us that overall people simply spend way too much time allowing themselves to be hurt by others. Being hurt or offended is not a happy feeling and we have a choice as to how we perceive the actions of others. We have the power to choose our thoughts and consequently our feelings. And we don’t have to be so hell-bent on blaming others in order to prove the ‘rightness’ of our own choices. Or as Mother Theresa so poignantly put it,
“Today I choose happiness over being right.”
To teach a child that they don’t always have to be right is a fabulous gift indeed. And, while it is important to teach children to stand up for themselves, it is equally as important to model compassion in the presence of human error. How liberating for children to bypass a legacy of anger and blame and instead default to their innate tendency for empathy.
Today, I am happy to say that through years of study, healing and prayer, I have developed into a much less angry person. I am more inclined to default to kindness and empathy, and yes, I do so even while driving. I’m grateful for all the lessons but especially for the one my daughter taught me on that stressful day. I continue to be open to the wisdom of our youth as I have much to learn.
What has your child taught you?
Are you a better person because of it?
We would love to hear your story!
Email us with your thoughts.
About the author
Kate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015.
She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today.
For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.
Buy the Book by Kate Martin: The Best Thoughts To Think Five minutes Before Bed