Bring kindness home

Kindness is a behavior marked by the quality of being generous, friendly, helpful, and considerate.

Editor’s Note: Today, February 17, is Random Acts of Kindness Day, an observance created by the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation to spread kindness by encouraging individuals, groups, and organizations to engage in acts of kindness. In line with Attachment Parenting International, RAK foundation is striving to make strides towards building a kinder, more compassionate world. 

As of late, I’ve been reflecting considerably on the notion of kindness. Perhaps it’s because, much like a mature tree, I’ve deepened my roots into the ground and spread my branches further out and up higher — I’ve grown more spiritual. Or, perhaps, it’s because I now bear fruits — I’ve become the mother of 2 children. Or, perhaps, it’s the fusion of both.

As I’ve become more rooted in recent years, I’ve evolved to become more kind to myself and others. In my role as a mother, I yearn for my kids to live in a kind world where gentleness and compassion is prevalent, not the exception. I also yearn for them to be kind to themselves, as well as others and the world — today, and always.

Often times, I’ve asked myself: What is the essence of kindness? What does it mean to be a kind person? Why are some people more kind than others? Why do some people find it challenging to act in kind ways? And, what can I do to promote more kindness on a personal level, in my family and the world?

The more I considered these questions, the more I realized that kindness has an essential element. Without it, kindness cannot stand. As I observe kind people all around me and as I watch acts of kindness carried out — small and big — I find a common thread: empathy.

Without empathy — the ability to feel another’s pain, the will to alleviate one’s suffering, or have sympathy — there is no space for kindness.

Parenting with Kindness

In the same way that empathy is a precursor for kindness to transpire, it is also a precursor for gentle, mindful parenting approaches such as Attachment Parenting.

For a parent to respond to their child with sensitivity and attentiveness — even when, at times, it presents many challenges — there needs to be a recognition on the parent’s part that the child needs to feel safe and secure, be nurtured, listened to, and have close physical contact. This is what the child needs — not merely wants at a particular stage of development, and not as an attempt to manipulate.

For instance, a 6-month-old baby may be breastfeeding more frequently at night due to a growth spurt or his need for soothing due to teething discomfort. When the parent is able to view a situation from their child’s perspective, attending to their needs in a gentle, kind way comes naturally.

Kindness Can Change the World

Through positive discipline, children learn to resolve conflicts devoid of violence. Children learn that inflicting pain on others, or acting in unkind ways towards others, is not appropriate. When we empathize with our children and kindly respond to them, they learn to respond to others in the same way.

When we teach kindness by modeling kindness thorough our parenting practices, we spread kindness. Our children’s behavior affects others — in a positive or negative way.

Imagine a world where every child is raised in a home with the frame of kindness. Can you envision the beautiful, serene picture I do?

Inspired to read more about kindness?

Editor’s pick: A kindness movement inspired by a potato

Kindness is contagious

Nurturing peace for world harmony

Modeling empathy to promote peace

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorI believe empathy is one of the most important aspects in promoting peace.  Children who are taught to be empathetic and who witness empathy will, in turn, show more empathy to others.

I attempt to teach empathy to my children through positive discipline, responding sensitively to their needs and emotions, and being present for them. I do my best to create a safe space for their emotions and to be a model of peaceful interactions with others.

Nowadays in my family, modeling empathy often occurs when helping my 4-year-old son wait while his sister has the toy he wants. I empathize with his emotions of frustration while also explaining that she would be sad if he took the toy from her.

When my 2-year-old daughter pouts, “I wasn’t ready to go to bed,” I choose to show her compassion. I acknowledge that she’s sad and say something like, “I know it’s hard to stop playing and go to bed, especially when your brothers are still awake, but now it’s time for us to cuddle together, and I’ll sing to you.”

With my 6-year-old son, we talk about how his strong emotions like anger are OK but that we need to work together to find appropriate outlets for those feelings.

Mommy Daddy Child BeachBeing sensitive to my children’s emotions works in helping them have more peaceful interactions with others. When my oldest son was 2, I remember hearing him putting his stuffed animals to sleep, speaking very gently to them and being present with them as I was with him. Now, at age 6, I see him express concerns for others when they get injured. Even my youngest child, only 2, will ask if I’m OK when I get hurt.

For my children today, opportunities for empathy happen most often in interactions with classmates, neighbors, and each other. But someday when they’re grown, I believe it will translate into their relationships with coworkers, spouses, their own children, and others they encounter in their lives. This is how practicing Attachment Parenting and being sensitive, responsive, and empathetic to our children can help create peace outside of the family and in the greater community.

The key to world peace and harmony

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorWhat is the key to promoting peace and harmony in our world?

In view of all the recent unrest and violence in our country and around the world, it’s a timely and imperative question.

It’s a question I often reflect on. As the mother of two young children, I’ve come to the realization that my role as a parent is not merely to raise my kids to be healthy, happy and successful adults — it’s much bigger than that: it is to raise kids who one day will become adult members of our society. My children and your children will one day become husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, neighbors, teachers, leaders, and lawmakers. With that realization, I feel an immense sense of responsibility.

I believe parenting practices — what parents model as an acceptable and appropriate behavior — has great consequences and implications that cascade beyond the home.

Let’s think about what it means for our children and how it shapes them when:

…a caregiver hits or spanks a child in response to a conflict or unwanted behavior. What messages is the child receiving in regards to managing anger, conflict resolution, and inflicting pain — both physical and emotional — on another being?

…we sleep-train a child — letting them cry themselves to sleep, ignoring their natural need to be soothed and comforted. How may it impact a sibling who is observing Mommy or Daddy not attending to the distressed young child? He may be learning it is acceptable to dismiss one’s need for soothing and compassion.

…the parent-child relationship is based on mutual respect, trust, and collaboration rather than control, manipulation, and fear. How does teaching collaboration and navigating together to reach resolutions prepare a child for future relationships? What does a child learn about handling disagreements when the parent is in the role of the unquestionable authority figure, as in “because I said so!” or “because I’m the boss!”?

…a child joins his mom as a volunteer at a soup kitchen to help others who are less fortunate, or he witnesses his dad stopping at the side of the road to help a stranded stranger.

It means that when we show empathy, we teach empathy; and when we show compassion, we teach compassion.

The child who has been nurtured with empathy and compassion is the child and adult who will extend his hand to another person, not swing his hand. He will be the one who lifts others, not belittles. He will grow to be the adult in society who promotes peace and harmony, not discord, because these are the values and tools imparted in him by his first and most significant role models: his parents.

Echoing in my mind is an incident that took place a few months ago: I clumsily hit the blow dryer against my left eyebrow bone. The sharp pain was agonizing. I clutched my bruise and knelt down to the floor uttering a few groans. My 8-year-old son was nearby. He came over, knelt down, and gently moved my hands and kissed my bruise. “Is it better now, Mommy?” he asked. While trying to hold back my groans, I replied: “A little. Thanks, my love.” He gave me a hug, then inspected the bruise, and said: “Maybe you can do some Reiki on it later.” I was in awe. My eyes were moist — no longer from the pain, but from experiencing the sensitivity and compassion he displayed: He sensed my pain and responded to it with tender sincerity.

In that moment, I was awash with joy and pride, and I thought, this is the kind of adult I aspire to release to this world: one that possesses empathy and compassion for others.

In that ordinary yet profound moment, I appreciated that all of the patience, compassion, responding with sensitivity, and positive discipline I have practiced raising my children. It all paid off in an extraordinary way.

The path to promoting peace and harmony may be simpler and more fundamental than we perceive it to be. It can be more effectively accomplished with the action of planting the seeds, rather than trimming the trees.

heart-and-keyParents, we are the key: Peace and harmony start with us! 

We are the peacemakers and peacebreakers of the world. If we want a more peaceful world for our children and the next generations, we ought to exemplify one for them. If as parents, we model sensitivity, empathy and harmony, our children will carry themselves through life, and react in the same manner when they encounter conflicts and adversities — for these are the tools we have been giving them.

Let’s plant those seeds and watch them grow and spread — one family, one community, one country at a time.

The Importance of Empathizing with Children – Guest Post by Dionna Ford

We are delighted to feature a guest post by Dionna Ford of Codename: Mama. Here, she flips perspective from our viewpoint as parents to that of children, as a reminder that what they experience is not the same thing as what we observe.

 

The Importance of Empathizing with Children

by Dionna Ford

 

Let’s try a couple of exercises. Ready?

    1. Grab a mirror, a piece of paper, and a pen. Using your non-dominant hand (the hand that you usually do not write with), make a five item to do list. Here’s the catch: you are not allowed to look at your hand or the paper while writing – you may only look at the mirror.
    2. Try doing the same thing, but have someone standing over you telling you what you’re doing wrong. Or how to do it correctly. Or telling you that you only have five minutes to complete the task. Or demanding that you not be frustrated at your inability to complete the task.

No really – do it! Even if you just try to write with your non-dominant hand, you should be feeling a little frustrated, yes?

With thanks to The Artful Mama for the mirror writing idea.

Now, imagine this scene: your child is trying to master a new task. Her face is scrunched up in concentration, her fingers are fumbling to get it right, she tries again and again.

This goes on for days. Maybe she is trying to dress herself. Tie her own shoes. Hit a ball thrown to her.

child concentrating

With each new attempt that does not produce the results she wants, the frustration grows. Often, she dissolves into tears or tantrums, literally collapsing with heavy feelings of defeat and frustration.

And while your child is breaking down, you are there dealing with your own emotions. Perhaps you feel helpless, wishing you could deposit the necessary motor skills or knowledge into her brain. Sometimes you feel annoyed, because she’s taking so long and you have places to go. Often you just want to take over, to end the crying.

Grown-ups sometimes forget what it is like to be little. Children have to rely on us for so many things that they wish they could do themselves. And learning to do those things is often a tough process.

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that, too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

— Shel Silverstein

I find that whenever I am feeling frustrated with my child’s behavior or actions, it helps to put myself in his shoes – to think of a situation where I have felt similar emotions. Empathizing with my children is a key component to my practice of two of the API principles: Responding with Sensitivity and Practice Positive Discipline.

In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg describes empathy as “‘a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.’ Empathy is simply being with a person, non-judgmentally as they are without offering advice, validation, or solutions.”

The exercise above is meant to be one that facilitates empathy. To give you a concrete experience to reflect on the next time your child struggles to master a seemingly simple task. Having this memory tucked away will enable you to sit patiently with your child as a compassionate and supportive presence.

How do you practice empathy with your child?

How do your nurture empathy in your child?

___________________

Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of two amazing kids, Kieran and Ailia. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with little ones. Dionna is also cofounder of Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org, and author of For My Children: A Mother’s Journal of Memories, Wishes, and Wisdom.

 

The Messages We Send Our Children

I am currently at the end of nursing my two youngest children through a bout of Influenza. This year’s strain of influenza, the Influenza A H1N1 is spreading rapidly and bringing with it messages of fear even for the most positive thinking parents. When children are sick it is natural for them to be afraid. I have put a lot of thought into the messages that I want my children to hear about their bodies, illness and their body’s ability to heal itself. This carries over into the way I want them to view issues of weight as they enter their teen and adult years and is a long term way of giving them the tools they need to avoid falling into the trap of eating disorders either on the under-eating or over-eating end of that spectrum.

While they were sick I kept repeating the message to them “Your body is strong, it will heal itself” and “yes you have a fever, the fever is a sign your body is working to fight off the virus,” “throwing up is a way for your body to get rid of the germs in your stomach and is a good thing” and “coughing is a way for your body to get germs out so it’s important to not take anything to stop the coughing.”

I believe the body wants to be well and is a self-healing entity and when we are fighting off the inevitable viruses that attack our bodies as important as a strong immune system is a strong belief in the body’s desire for balance and wellness. These are the messages I want my children to hear while they are sipping water, lying on the couch watching cartoons and fighting off whatever bug has bit them.

I am very careful not to jump for the pill bottle for them or myself and even do not jump to the herbal or natural remedies too quickly either and when I do I describe them as support for the body rather than a cure.

And as important as what I say is what I do. My children watch me and know what I am putting into my body, they know if I’m fearful when I get sick. They worry about mommy when she’s not well and I repeat the same messages to them. And they are always true. I rarely get sick but when I do I get better quickly.
They see it happen and they know it to be true.

I apply this same approach in the matter of discipline.

I believe that children want to behave in ways that avoids hurting others, that they want to be kind and gentle and do the right thing for others. I’ve seen very natural and spontaneous acts of kindness from very small children and believe that they naturally want to follow that course. They are just in need of guidance as to how their actions affect others. I don’t believe being fearful of a parent is conducive to imparting that message which is why I avoid punitive discipline.

The messages I try to relay in all those situations are ones of emotion. “That made your friend very happy when you gave her that toy, you must be very proud of yourself,” or “you didn’t mean to hurt your friend, you seem very sorry,” and “I am very proud of you.” The last one I say a lot and is not dependent upon their behaviour. It is important that they know how I feel about them outside of their behaviour and I tell them how proud I am of them at random moments.

Another message that I try to impart to them regularly is that I am absolutely thrilled to be their mom. I tell them that I am the luckiest mom because they are my children and that being their mom is my greatest joy.

This message is the most important one because it counterbalances those very human moments when I am not the most patient mom, they know how I really feel so that when I apologise for being angry or disappointing them or for making very human mistakes they believe it because they have seen through my words and most of my actions that I mean it.

From the very beginning, from the moment we respond to their first cry, to that toddler moment when we return a snatched toy to impress upon them that others have needs as well as theirs, while consoling them during illness and while tucking them in on a regular old night, the messages we give our children, spoken as well as acted, are soaked sponge-like into their brains.

And because of this the messages we send through our words and actions are probably our number one tool in shaping the adults they become and increases the likelihood that they will become emotionally strong, healthy, capable and truly happy adults.

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