As I walked for miles today through a beautiful quiet forest, I thought about some of the places I have worked where students often did not have their basic needs fully met. I tried to remember if I had the same issues with kids being mean to each other as I hear about and have experienced in many schools. Ironically, I don't believe that students were less willing or able to practice kindness in the most impoverished schools. Actually, in my experience, the less economically advantaged students were often more able to share and offer empathy, when given the tools and opportunity to do so.
As I pondered deeper, I reflected on some of the beliefs that get in the way of expressing kindness. Some of these ideas I've heard from teachers, and some by students. If we are to combat a "me, me, me" mentality, we must figure out what we can do to remove the barriers to kindness in school. Many of the barriers stem from faulty thinking, and in order to actually promote kindness, we must challenge these myths:
- Myth #1: Being kind makes you weak. Many of us fall into the habit of thinking that being giving and accommodating means that we are doormats. This is not the case at all! Giving of ourselves, within our means, helps us stay healthier and happier. We can model this for our students and support them when they reach out to give to someone. Sharing stories of our own strength through giving also provides a positive model for our kids.
- Myth #2: There isn't enough to go around, so if I give up something, there will be nothing left for me. We often latch onto things or opportunities because we are fearful that resources are limited. While sometimes this is the case, often it is just a reaction that we have learned. As a middle kid in a big family, I am often guilty of thinking that I must quickly get what I need in case it disappears. We can reassure our students that there is plenty of our attention to go around.
- Myth #3: I am too busy. Acts of kindness do not have to be planned out for months, nor do they necessarily require a great deal of time. I have given students "homework" where they have to do an act of kindness once per day for a week and then record it. At the end of the week we talk about our experiences and how we felt afterward. Kids are quite impressed by how quick and easy it is to take a moment to extend a helping hand.
- Myth #4: Being nice to that person means that I will become unpopular. For this one, I say: so be it! Take the risk! If others shun me because I reach out to someone else, then who has the problem? Not me! In class, we talk about the risk of being an "upstander" when someone is being bullied or harassed. We also roleplay situations to give students the tools and words to stand up for what is right.
- Myth 5: Being available and giving means that I need to be a martyr. You can't truly help others unless you take care of yourself first. Practice those acts of kindness on yourself, by giving yourself an extra 5 minutes of quiet time, or a teeny bit of extra whipped cream on that dessert. Teach your students that they can be kind to themselves AND others.
We play a game called carwash. Students make two lines facing each other. Someone walks down the row (inbetween the two lines of kids). Each child has to say something nice about that student. The child has to say thankyou.
I do this with third graders. It also helps to give them, some time to write their compliments ahead of time.
They love playing and are always very happy at the end of the game.
I've been thinking about this post for several days now and keep leaving it as "unread" in my RSS so I return to it. You've made some very strong points about myths regarding kindness. I keep thinking about the first myth, "Being kind makes you weak." Some adults confuse this point too. For example, in the context of leadership, when a servant leader is trying to develop a team of other leaders, it requires building relationships and listening. It also requires giving up doing things yourself to provide opportunities to grow others to do it. This often requires coaching behind the scene, and allowing them to shine like a star. Sometimes, that servant leadership can be perceived as weakness, when it clearly is not, and someone might try to bump the servant leader off the team. In those circumstances, obviously the servant leader has to have the tough conversation, but then allow the kindness to shine through again.
I love that you posted about this because if they learn it in childhood, it is much easier to understand as adults.
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