Estelle Lloyd, Co-Founder of Azoomee, and Ariane de Bonvoisin, author, speaker and life skills coach, share tips on teaching your kids kindness at a time when physical affection is limited, and everyone is feeling the strain of the pandemic.
It can be difficult to be kind when times are hard. The general underlying sense of uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us to one degree or another, and while you might expect that makes people lash out or retreat inward more, on the whole the opposite has been true.
Small acts of kindness are on the rise – from our weekly NHS applause in the UK, volunteering to help those in need or just picking up the phone to lend an empathetic ear, people have been more inclined to help others even while facing their own unique problems.
This is exactly what we need to be passing on to children during this difficult time. There is more than enough information on how to keep children ‘busy’ during lockdown, but what do we expect them to learn from the experience as a whole? Can we use the extra time we currently have with them to “teach” kindness? Not just by example, but by communicating just how acts of kindness can help improve emotional wellbeing in themselves and others?
With mental health awareness week changing its theme for 2020 to ‘kindness’, now is the perfect time to consider this. Here are some tips on teaching your kids to be kind, to themselves and each other, during this tough time.
Role model kindness
Kids copying their parents is one of the most fundamental ways that they learn new things, and this is especially true for how they learn kindness. Make sure to create experiences where kids can see you be kind, and where kids can choose to be kind too. From the way you treat the cashier when you get groceries, to the way you react when small things go wrong, kids are constantly absorbing the information they see.
This applies to self-kindness too. When kids are exposed to parents who demonstrate negative self-talk or self-punishment, they absorb that. The idea of not being good enough is incredibly common for kids. Self-kindness is the antidote to that, but it needs to come from the parents first. Kids need parents who are filling up their own bucket with kindness. by positive role modelling how you treat others and yourself, you set the scene and give children the tools they need to love both themselves and each other.
Accept all emotional states
It is understandable that household stress may be running high during lockdown. Cabin fever is a real problem, and this is going to have an impact on how kids behave. With all the options of the outside world closed off, it can be challenging to be patient. While your instinct might be to boost your children’s mood and distract them to keep them happy, the truth is, the kindest approach is to allow kids (and ourselves) to experience challenging emotions.
Too often kids aren’t allowed to simply be human. It is natural to want your kids to be cheerful and carefree, even when you are not. But when you stifle their feelings, they may end up believing that something is wrong with them because they are not happy all of the time. Sadness and anger are healthy emotional states too, so let your kids know that all emotions are welcome before just trying to “fix” things. The kindest act is to accept your child exactly as they are, because this is one of the first steps to encourage self-kindness.
Kids can be cruel to each other. Even the kindest kids will eventually run into kids who are not. It is important to arm them with an active response to unkindness. When it does happen, teach them to see that underneath other’s unkindness is always a cry for help. Hurt kids, hurt others, so teaching them how to process unkindness without it affecting them is an important part of encouraging them to be better themselves.
Teaching your children to “Shield Up” is an effective technique – imagine an invisible shield that only lets in love and kindness. The other emotions bounce off the shield to the other person for them to learn how they feel. This arms them with a tool kit to use when they get into difficult situations. If someone is unkind, kids can choose to let the comments bounce off their shields.
Wrap up the day
It’s important for kids to recognise that just because they are sad now doesn’t mean they will be forever, and these feelings don’t define who they are. It can be useful to do a “Wrap up the Day” exercise with your little ones at bedtime.
Ask them if they have any emotions they’d like to let go of, and where they are located in their body. If they have any yucky feelings, it can be helpful to give them a name or a shape. Then take deep breaths together and pretend to “pull” out the negative emotions from their bodies. As an added bonus once they feel calm, they’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep.
Expect kindness from the world
This may sound like counterintuitive advice given the current state of the world, but amidst this crisis, it’s important to give kids a model of the world that’s kind, loving and safe. Yes, there are risks of which we need to be aware, but there are also actionable ways to stay safe. And yes, some people may choose to do bad things, but we can still have compassion for them. To borrow a quote from Fred Rogers – ‘look for the helpers,’ The more we direct our kid’s attention to the ways that this is a kind world, the more they will go out into the world expecting and creating kindness.
A future full of kindness
Especially during this pandemic, it can be easy to frame kindness as outward acts towards other people. While this is good, and we certainly need that, it is important to remind ourselves that the true heart of being kind to others begins with being kind to yourself. When kids learn to love themselves, they feel mentally healthy, and if they know how to be kind to themselves, they will naturally be kind to others.
Finally, make a point of doing little acts of kindness for your kids too. We’ve all been handling a lot lately, and it’s nice to create magical moments for your children. This can be as simple as letting them build a fort in the lounge or having pancakes for dinner. Be honest with them about what’s going on, but also invite them to think of the positives that might be on the horizon. Empower your kids to come up with ways they can be kind and let them build a bright future ahead for themselves. Even with uphill challenges, we have the opportunity to live in a world that’s full of hope, where everyone is raised to be kind.
Azoomee is an entertaining educational content platform for kids aged 4+, for more information visit azoomee.com.