Ways to Raise Kind People
Mixed among the many joyful thoughts in my mind when I learned we were expecting were fearful ones like:
“Who said we could do this?”
“There’s so much more that I need to learn” and
“But wait, the world isn’t the way I want it to be yet.”
It is not that many of the common narratives I hear about the joys of parenthood are completely void of truth, as much as they often lack the acknowledgment of structures of oppression and the many ways that people with marginalized identities experience parenthood differently.
As the date of our child’s birth gets closer, I consider the reality that in America, Black children don’t get to be children. Not for very long.
I think about the time when I learned that one of my nieces who was under 4 years old at the time had already internalized a fear of the police. I wonder to myself, “how soon is too soon?” At what age does the perception of Black children shift from being seen as innocent babies to the false characterization of the monster; of the problem to be solved that is so commonly reflected in the ways they are treated in society?
At times I worry that even as I resist it, I’ve been breathing in the air of the toxicity created by white supremacy for too long. I struggle with the thought of how much to tell them so that they have what they need to be aware and survive through this system, and how much to hold back so that I do not diminish their outlook and feelings of agency. I resolve to keep in mind that there may be expiration dates to the frameworks I currently hold and that they might over time develop a new path that I might struggle to understand due to my overexposure. These thoughts aren’t going away for me any time soon, and they just serve as one example of how it is impossible to talk about an experience in meaningful ways without acknowledging that people and groups are situated differently.
In a broader context, I wonder about how to raise a person that is empathetic, attentive to others, who understands how the ways they are situated and resists both internalizing the self-hatred that the oppression of their marginalized identities is intended to foster, as well as resisting the internalized patterns and expectations of power that the privileging of their dominant identities is intended to foster, among other questions.
Now, in no way is demeanor the thing that is going to solve all the structural concerns I have and answer my questions, but when I honestly shared some of these thoughts (fears really) with other social justice workers at a retreat, I was advised by one parent of color to focus on raising kind people.
“If you focus on raising kind people, some of that stuff tends to work out.”
So I took it to social media to see what folks thought, and I’d like to share some of the responses here.
“Be a kind person.”
“In other words, be you…They are always watching.”
“I am not a parent, and no idea of how effective it is, but working with kids I found it really helpful to talk about empathy and taking others’ point of view….really understanding and trying to make space for them.”
“By showing it and setting an example. Plus teaching them and explaining “why” instead of using the “because I said so” line.”
“By setting the example. My child hears everything! They say and do what we show them. We talk about loving yourself and having good character (tell the truth, be respectful, do the right thing.). I also watch what they watch. Some of these cartoons are bad examples (bullying, gossiping, rudeness, unfair play).”
“Mind the little things. Hold them accountable, follow through.”
1. Role model.
2. Constant unpacking of examples both of kindness in action and how we could make other choices to be kind.
3. When they are older speak ALOT about character and how that reflects who you are.”
“Demonstrate and mirror kindness. When my kids did something that was unkind I would point it out and talk about why that was not ok. Hope this helps :)”
“Role model. And emphasize the importance of individual power and impact in a positive manner.”
“They will learn it from you. Expressing care for one another, showing love for your neighbors, checking in on your elderly friends and family, making empathetic remarks about those that are less fortunate…choosing social work as part of the framework for solving problems..”
“Teach, preach, and exemplify gratitude.”
“I teach definitions of words like love, justice, compassion, and kindness so that when I correct them they understand what I mean.”
“Everything everyone else said and my only addition is that children are taught to look to adults and other children as examples. I think the responsibility of good parents is to aid them in being wise in knowing that everyone’s friend is a model and not every adult is kind.”
“The key concept is empathy. Not just feeling, but seeing the reasons in someone’s actions. This leads to decision-making ability and a sense of intentional impact.” “You have power, how will you use it?” or, It’s your choice. How will you impact them?”
“Instilling discipline and integrity are key. Because the value of these aren’t obvious. There is no instant reward so they are abstract other than the importance we place on them.”
“By empathy and example.”
“By being kind; by treating them like whole people with feelings, opinions, and ideas; by asking their opinion; by being patient with them as they learn to do things; including when doing for them would be more efficient; by talking and not shouting when you are disappointed; by admitting when you are uncertain or afraid; by being affectionate with them and around them; by allowing them to make choices when those choices won’t have negative consequences, even if their choices aren’t the choices you would make; by teaching them that love is not a word, but rather a verb.”
“Be exhaustingly kind.”
“Always be kind to them first. No matter what its unconditional love. No matter what bad moment they are in, they have to know first and foremost that you love them. No matter how bad that tantrum is in the supermarket, you love them more.”
“What everyone said. The most important thing is teaching them that everyone makes mistakes and that apologizing for those mistakes does not make you weak. It actually makes you a better person.”
“Intentionality about kindness puts them on a good course and it makes us better people at the same time.”
“Model the behavior.”
“i think there are developmentally appropriate things to do around kindness as well. for sure, modeling it, but creating empathy, i have learned; is not about demanding it.”
“Talk all you want, but if you don’t show it they won’t know it!”
Are any themes emerging for you here?
If you raise or have raised kids, How do you raise kind people?
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones