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.