Children and Kindness
Children and Kindness
Children do not have to be trained to be kind. Kindness can be observed in action in children from a very early age. A baby, hearing another cry, will often join in. From what researchers can establish, this response appears not to be from a reaction of distress, but rather as an expression of sympathy for the other baby. Researchers hypothesise that the ‘sing along’ is to let the other baby know they have company and support. It is also a common practice for small children to comfort a parent or another child who they perceive to be distressed, by making appropriate sounds and gestures. Alfie Kohn, author of ‘The Brighter Side of Nature’ (Basic Books, Inc., NY) tells us, As the child develops the capacity for purposive behaviour, in the period between eighteen and twenty-four months, her response to distress will become more active: patting the head, fetching a toy, offering verbal expressions of sympathy, finding an adult to help, and so forth. The ability to be of assistance seems to build on a pre-existing sense of concern and responsibility for others. It has also been known for a child to offer it’s feeding bottle to a crying mother.
As the child’s personality develops, he/she finds ways and means to be less vulnerable and defenceless to the environment. It is not uncommon during this period for the child to become partly separated from it’s essence (with a corresponding loss of identity). It is therefore important that the child be encouraged to maintain the ‘gift’ of kindness. This is a simple matter in a kind and nurturing home environment. But in homes where both parents work long hours and have less time to devote to their child’s needs, in cases where there is pressure and disharmony present, in instances where the TV is used as a ‘baby sitter’, and later, where the child becomes addicted to the box (TV programs rarely have a kindness theme), the child may not have a role model for kindness. If we couple to this the put downs by peers and authority figures, the child can easily lose the concept of kindness.
How can this be avoided? The child can of course be encouraged to be kind by the parents, which will normally be very effective if the parents are seen by the child as being kindly in their day to day interactions with each other. But if the household has a touch of the War of the Roses movie, no amount of encouragement is likely to be effective. It is therefore important (but sometimes not so easy!) for parents to agree to act as positive role models for their children. This decision to promote a kinder home environment can and should be discussed by all members of the family to ensure everything runs smoothly. It can be very rewarding to hold ‘cabinet’ meetings from time to time when someone feels they are being disadvantaged by an act of kindness (for example, a child or a partner can claim lack of attention), and each one of the family has their say in the matter. As time goes on, such meetings become less frequent as everyone realises the overall advantages of kindness. The outcome will mean a more harmonious and loving family, and with the current tendency of a move away from the nuclear family, such ‘kindness pacts’ could serve well.
The other obvious location for encouraging kindness is at school. While children can be angels, at times they can also be devils. If a child has a physical impairment, a speech impediment, is obese, is from a needy family, a different race or culture, or any other condition that places them in another perspective to that of the ‘herd’, they can be submitted to ridicule. There was a recent case in Australia of an obese child who committed suicide because she could not tolerate the jibes of her peers any longer.