It made me smile to think not only about “a great deal of butter,” but about the care that these girls have for each other…most of the time! And it got me thinking again about how important it is to instill values of kindness and empathy in our children.
A few months ago, I wrote about re-making community connections after the pandemic. In addition to lost meaningful connections with those outside of my smaller circle, it feels that a consequence of pandemic stress was a hit to the basic sense of kindness in our societal interactions. These days, I am becoming more aware of a desire to intentionally smile at strangers, or to be extra patient while waiting in line (you have likely seen the signs at retail establishments: The world is short-staffed; be kind to those who showed up).
In spite of it sometimes taking effort when I am frazzled or in a hurry, it feels better to be kind, and it certainly feels good to receive kindness and grace from others.
Modeling kindness is, of course, one way to help children learn it. Our children are always watching what we do and how we interact with others. As we respond to our own children, we can try to understand and validate their feelings. We can substitute phrases like, “you’re okay” with “I’m sorry you are sad because ….That must be really hard. Can I give you a hug?” And we can help them deal with big feelings in a constructive way.
As they get older, we can talk through situations to help them find an empathetic response. Last night Cora was upset and crying because Abby is moving beyond some of the activities they used to do together; she felt sad that she’s often playing alone. It’s a hard time for a younger sister. While it’s completely natural for Abby to leave those things behind, it’s important that she listens to her sister’s feelings and, through empathy, shows that she values Cora by making an effort to connect with her in a way that works for both girls.
As another example, our family was talking about an amazing project featured in a local magazine through which children with life-limiting illness are able to experience healing using art (https://edinamag.com/ziggys-art-bus-brings-art-all) . When discussing the possibility of engaging with this project, Abby expressed uncertainty about knowing how to interact with the children. We had a meaningful discussion around how important these encounters could be for everyone involved, and we talked about how we would hope to experience the world should our own physical circumstances change.
Several years ago, we wrote a parent article, Cultivating Empathy in Your Child. It provides additional thoughts on empathy and kindness. A resource we shared in that article has been updated to address some of the changes our society has gone through over the last few years:
The topic of empathy in children has also come up in the media recently, if you would like to read more:
As we begin the new year, we wish you and your family good health, happiness, and much kindness!