February 17, 2017
Written by Meghan Marsden Parsche
As usual, we were cutting it close, rushing to get into the classroom on time. As I helped my five year-old twins (picture above) hang up their coats, another mom dropped an activity box, its contents rolling all over the floor in the busy hallway. I abandoned the coats for a moment to bend down and help her quickly put the box back together so others could make their way through the hallway.
I looked up to see my son smiling at me. “Mom! You helped her! That’s so nice,” he said. His comment caught me off guard. “Well, uh, that’s what we do, buddy,” I replied.
In that moment I was reminded that our kids observe and learn from everything we do and say – good and bad. In this case, I had set a good example for kindness. But if I’m being honest, I have missed plenty of chances not only to teach kindness, but model it myself. In a house with four young kids, the opportunities for teachable moments are as plentiful as the dirty laundry.
Thanks to social media, parents are more aware than ever of the effects of kindness – or rather the lack thereof – on kids. Parenting magazines and mom blogs are full of advice on how to raise kinder, more empathetic kids. The amount of information is overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start, but there is a common theme in all of the advice: kids learn about kindness by observing their parents’ behavior.
At the preschool where my twins attend 4k, the teachers have based their approach for teaching kindness on a book called “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” by Carol McCloud. The book uses a bucket as a metaphor for how someone feels. When you do something kind for someone, you “fill” their bucket, but when you are unkind, you “dip into” their bucket. The book explains that by filling someone else’s bucket, you fill your own as well, since being kind to others makes you feel good too.
The teachers have added a tangible element to the metaphor, using actual buckets and tickets to represent each student’s kindness in the classroom. If they catch a student doing something kind for another student, they give them a ticket to put into a little bucket with their name on it. This gives the students a visual representation of their positive behavior in the classroom.
The teachers point out, however, that it’s just as important that their students see them modeling kindness in their interactions with each other. As a team of three teachers, they collaborate on lessons and support each other throughout the day. Their actions and the language they use set the tone for the classroom.
For consistency, our family has adopted the language from the school’s approach into our everyday lives at home, praising our kids for filling buckets, and reminding them not to dip into others’ buckets. Most importantly, we make a conscious effort to be the kind of people we want them to be.
We started simply – by paying better attention to our own behavior. Ask yourself these questions, for example: Do you speak badly of others in front of your kids? Are you rude to the server when your food is taking too long at the restaurant? Do you hold the door open for others? Do you take time to commit selfless acts, like volunteering in the community? You get the idea.
We’re not perfect and it’s not always easy, but we’re trying. In the end, we just hope to raise the kind of people we’d like to see more of in the world.
Comment and share how you teach kindness to the young people in your life.