Kindness: We Can Do Better

four people wearing blue crew neck t shirts
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One of the great things about working at a junior high school is that kids are generally pretty happy people — and happiness is contagious. I find that when I am feeling stressed, or overwhelmed, a short walk across campus is often the cure. On these walks, I am typically greeted with a chorus of “Hey Mr. Delp,” fist bumps, high fives, and lots of smiles. Seeing the energy and enthusiasm of kids is invigorating and a great reminder that the little ways we interact with others makes a difference.

This week, I ran across this tweet from Eugene Cho.

Kindness, civility, and humility do matter. For the most part, I believe our young people get this. They understand that there is a right and wrong way to treat others — even when there are significant differences. This is not to say they are perfect. Kids are obviously capable of being mean, but the longer I am in education, the more convinced I am that this behavior is learned — often the byproduct of a child’s own personal experiences, or trauma.

So where do kids learn this behavior? Hmm. Turn on the television and watch how adults interact. Scroll through your Twitter feed. Read the comments on Facebook posts. Adults will say or write anything — with no regard for kindness, civility, or humility. In many cases, we are not only rude to those with whom we disagree, but we also resort to name-calling, demonizing, and ultimately we disengage from meaningful dialogue — creating even greater divides in society. For a little more on why we need to be talking (especially to those with whom we disagree), read this Op-Ed: The best way to evaluate your beliefs? Engage with people who disagree with you.

So as educators, as parents, as people who influence children, how do we do better? I don’t believe it has to be difficult. As we say at Willis, little things can make a big difference.

  • Be polite. Model the use of phrases like thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, and other courteous language.
  • Smile. Genuine smiles have actually been shown to positively alter our brain chemistry and they can do the same to those at whom we smile.
  • Be relentlessly kind. Demonstrate to kids what kindness looks like, sounds like, and acts like.
  • Be patient. Some kids may not get all of this on the “first bounce.” Stick with them. Their ability to hone the skills of civility, respect, empathy, and kindness is going to depend — in large part — upon their prior experiences.
  • Model conflict resolution. Our kids need to see that they can resolve conflict, or at least come to an understanding, without yelling, screaming, name-calling, or fighting.
  • Show kids that you can stand firm on your values and beliefs without demeaning, or insulting others. You can, but it takes practice.
  • Practice Self-Regulation. If you notice yourself getting angry, upset, or frustrated, take some deep breaths and pause before you speak. Help students understand their emotions and develop positive coping skills.
  • Strive to be a person of kindness, civility, and humility — even when kids aren’t watching. Choose your words wisely. Interact positively on social media. Listen to others with the intent to understand, not to change minds.

Our kids deserve better role models for behavior than what they are currently getting in our society. When I witness negative, even ugly, adult interactions I often think of this Mother Teresa quote:

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

We do belong to each other. Let’s act accordingly.

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