Today is World Kindness Day. There are plenty of these random ‘holidays’ and it’s easy to start ignoring them. However, this one struck me today and I knew I wanted to do something, because kindness matters … but I wasn’t sure which ‘profession’ of mine to focus on. You see, I work full time as Live Again’s Co-Executive Director, but I also am a part-time preschool teacher. I work with about twenty 2-5 year olds in a home based preschool in North Portland. It’s rewarding and challenging to balance these separate worlds, but it has become incredibly clear that these worlds aren’t that different.
Through ‘Live Again’ I am co-creating/leading workshops, resources, support groups, and tools to increase mental wellness (and reduce suicide) in Portland communities. However, at the core Live Again is all about risk reduction through community empathy and confidence building through self-care. At B’s Preschool I am co-creating/leading virtue based circle times and creating/participating in opportunities for the kids to support one another as a community. At the core, what I am doing at B’s Preschool is all about creating a safe learning enviroment through community empathy and confidence building through self-care…with some potty training and playdough thrown in the mix. In fact at each circle time we put out three fingers and in unison remind ourselves of three things.
1. I can be safe
2. I can be kind
3. I can be a helper
In both worlds we are constantly dealing with safety, empathy, and community… however these three words can be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted by both kids and adults. A word that could be easily understood by both is KINDNESS.
It matters because no matter what age we are, we struggle to be kind to ourselves. We fail at a task and instantly don’t want to try it again. It’s instinct to feel disappointed and discouraged. However, if we learn to be kind to ourselves we can all learn to be forgiving of ourselves as well. We also learn that the effort itself is an accomplishment. When the kids at preschool are coloring we try to avoid telling them their drawing is ‘beautiful’ or ‘great’. In truth, those things are a given. They have taken a thought and translated it to paper through a crayon. It is already greatly beautiful. Instead, we ask them about it. What are they drawing? How does it make them feel? Why did they want to draw that? These questions lead to self-analyzation, self-confidence, and self-kindness. We can do this at any age. Celebrate your intentions, pat yourself on the back for trying something new, and get right back on that horse… or tricycle.
Then there is our own physical appearance. Let’s be honest, we all struggle with this. Cultural standards are unachievable for everyone in truth, but we still measure ourselves by them. However, kids don’t really know these standards. They are learned, not felt. When a child arrives in a fancy dress we have to fight our urge to compliment them, because what does that say when compared to the mismatched pants and t-shirt they wore yesterday. Furthermore, what does it mean when the dress is later covered in dirt from playing in the rain and digging in the garden? Instead we ask more questions. How was your morning? What do you want to do today? Is there a reason you chose your dress today? We can do the same thing as adults. Ask yourself, what do you want to do today? Then dress the part. Be confident with the person you see in that mirror. They are amazing and they will do amazing things when they practice self-kindness.
Community Kindness Matters.
“Kids can be so mean.” I’ve heard it a million times and for a long time I believed it. However, I am beginning to think it’s simply not true. What is true is that we can all be selfish or ignorant. When we are these and fail to see things from another’s perspective it’s… well… mean. It’s a psychological fact that kids are selfish and that’s okay. They are discovering their world and they only know their world; and for all intents and purposes they are at the center of that world. Their choices and wants matter the most. However, that does not mean they can’t understand another child’s point of view. A lot of times with children and adults we merely try to correct the problem quickly by throwing a nice apology on it and quickly move on. However an apology without some sense of empathy is empty. At the preschool, when one child hurts another one either through their words or actions our natural reaction is to tell them why it was wrong and demand they apologize. However, the more effective method (especially for the older preschoolers) is to help them both through the conversation. One child can ask the other one if they are okay. The hurt child is encouraged to be honest. If they are not okay the next line of action is to see what the first child can do to help. “Is there anything I can do?” The answer is usually a boo-boo pack (ice pack) and sometimes a hug. Then an apology is still in order, but there is an understanding that is being developed. Beyond that we can also begin to put them in other children’s shoes. What would it feel like to have your toy yanked from your hand? As adults, we too rush to judgement and apologies. We try to skip the conversation and go right for the boo-boo pack. What if we began to slow down, put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and asked what we can do to help… even if we weren’t the ones that hurt them.
Kindness, once learned, can become instinct. We begin to instinctively see pain and struggle in those around us and learn how to reach out without judgement or quick answers. Kindness in crisis is not quick answers, it is comfort followed by conversations and continued care. This learned kindness is beautifully displayed in one of the youngest among the preschoolers. There is a two year old among them who is often known for taking toys or not listening to teachers or swinging his arms at others. He is two so these things are completely understandable, but what goes beyond understanding is his capability for kindness and empathy. This same child who is known for taking stuffed animals from his friends is also using his knowledge of association for good. I have seen it multiple times. A child will begin to cry from another room. I don’t know why they are crying, but I know another teacher in the room will be handling it well. Therefore, I don’t approach the situation. However, that is not the reaction of this said two year old. He will hear the cry, instantly recognize who this disembodied cry is coming from, and go to the stairs where most stuffed animals hang out, grab THAT child’s stuffed animal, and bring it directly to them. The crying child is often already talking with a teacher and trying to calm down so they don’t always see the two year olds effort as noble. Sometimes they are frustrated that he has touched their stuffed animal again. However, that doesn’t slow him down. He continues to show empathy and continues to put effort into comforting others.
What if we were to forget what we know and begin to relearn what it means to be kind to ourselves and to others? I believe confidence would flow through our veins, communities would reach new levels of connectedness, and in the end lives would be saved. So that is why I assure you, kindness matters.