How to teach kindness and build the self esteem of our children.

‘Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world.’ —Annie Lennox

As a parent and a teacher I want my own children and the children I teach to know how to be kind. I actually believe that kindness is the most important thing for children to feel fulfilled and happy themselves. Unkindness in others tells me that the person is actually unhappy, they are stressed or something in their life is not right. Emotional resilience is more important than academic success or sporting prowess because without it you will always feel unhappy.

I had a training day this week about building self confidence and self esteem with a wonderful speaker called Cat Williams. Do take a look at her site here….

http://www.staycalmandcontent.com

Building self confidence and emotional resilience helps children to feel fulfilled and happy in their own skin. In turn, this helps children to be able to be kind to others. In fact, having these things throughout our lives is essential for positive well being and mental health. Finding what makes you happy is all part of this so it is our job as parents and educators to help children to explore that. With this in mind, I thought I would blog about some of things I have learnt during my time working with children. I am not a professional counsellor and these opinions are my own but I have taught hundreds of children and hope some of these things may be useful to others.

Children can not be a great friend until they are friendly. They will not be able to show kindness unless they have experienced it for themselves.

As parents and teachers we ask children who their friends are. We ask them who they played with or if anyone was horrid to them. In other words, we are worried for children as we can often remember the time when we felt lonely or excluded and we don’t want our children to feel these things. But instead, perhaps we should be praising children for the friendly behaviour that will help them to see how to be friendly and kind. ” I loved the way you included everyone in your game! I think that Ben could see that you were being kind to him.” Or ” thank you for sharing your spade with your friend so that she could make a sandcastle too. That was a kind thing to do” Help your child to be friendly to other children so that they can see what being a good friend is like. Modelling is also important so be a friendly person yourself. Don’t exclude other parents, talk about others behind their backs or be nasty! It sounds obvious but as a teacher, I see this in adults all the time and then they can’t understand why their child is struggling. Show your child kindness. We love our children so showing love is easy but showing kindness can sometimes be forgotten.

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Ask the right questions.

Don’t put words into your child’s mouth about how their day may have been especially if you are using negative words. For example, “Did that nasty boy bully you today?” or “Did you not have anyone to play with on the playground?” These types of questions make the child want to give you an answer! So they will possibly tell you what they think you want to hear and that is not always the truth. “Oh no I didn’t have anyone to play with!” (when actually they were very happily playing on their own or they were only alone for 5 minutes.) “Yes, that nasty boy bullied me!” (Actually he didn’t but he does have tricky behaviour sometimes so that’s what my parent must be asking me). Instead ask your child what they did today. Or ask them to name three things they loved doing today. Make it positive and your child will feel as if they have had a great day. Feeling positive about something helps children to have the mindset that will promote positive emotional growth.

Let your child try new things but don’t make them do things you wished you had done.

This is obvious but I see it all the time. We want our children to try new things like learning a new instrument or taking up knitting. What children don’t need is their Dad making them play rugby because Daddy almost made the England squad and feels disappointed that he didn’t. By all means take your child to rugby but don’t start questioning everything they are doing or criticising them. All this does is make your child feel bad about themselves. What Daddy should be doing is joining a rugby team himself as rugby makes him feel good! Find what makes you feel amazing and do that! For me, it’s gardening, skiing, teaching and being outside. I also love ecology and nature and remember sitting next to our garden pond when I was a child watching out for frogs….I still love this now!

It’s ok for your child to show emotion, including anger.

We need to ensure that children feel it’s ok to show how they feel. It’s ok to be cross or sad or very angry but it’s not ok to hurt others when we feel like that. That’s how I explain emotions to children. This week in school we have talked about positive feelings and I use emojis to describe them to children. Children often do not have the words to describe how they feel so it’s our job as adults to teach them. We talked about all the words that describe positive emotions such as friendly, fun, joyful and pride. It was interesting that the children knew many more words for negative feelings such as sadness, crying, shame, jealous, mean, guilty and frightened. It is valuable for children to talk about their negative emotions in a calm and non threatening way so, as a parent, I would try to do this after an event of anger focussing on how the event made them feel and what to do next time. Trying to talk to an angry child is not going to be a positive experience for anyone!

Give positive praise

We all remember the time we were told off by a teacher or parent because often it was scary. I expect you can’t remember what was said because the feeling of being frightened stopped you from listening. If you were to name one adult in your life growing up that was important to you, I expect it was an adult who made you feel special. They listened to you and showed you kindness. That’s the adult we need to be for our children. The adult who will take that extra time to really listen to children and to praise them for the small things that happen each day. It’s easier to ignore good behaviour isn’t it? But that’s the behaviour you need to comment on so that your child sees what is expected of them. If your child keeps doing something you don’t like then try to ignore it and praise them on the things you do like. For example, if your child keeps interrupting you, ignore them but if they say, excuse me, then look at them and smile and listen to what they have to say and tell them thank you for saying excuse me. If your child is eating beautifully at the table using their knife and fork let them know that you are proud of them for doing so! I often see parents completely ignoring their little ones until they do something “naughty” and then they stop ignoring them! This just makes children repeat that naughty behaviour to get their parents attention. It can seem silly at first but it really does work.

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Tell them they are amazing!

I often tell children they are amazing and every time, every child glows. Children need to be told this to feel it. Try it with your own children. It really works! Try not to use words that describe their physical appearance such as beautiful, pretty, cute, handsome, “such a dude” etc. This just makes children feel that they have to be these things all the time to impress you. We can’t all be beautiful, pretty or cute all the time but we can be amazing.

We have a kindness pledge in our classroom so I thought I would end with this:

I pledge to myself

On this very day,

To try to be kind

in every way.

To every person,

Big or small,

I will help them,

if they fall.

When I love myself,

And others too,

That is the best,

That I can do.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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