This year I added a new tool to my parenting toolbox.
My nearly-nine-year-old daughter and I have started reading novels and watching movies together. I can tell you’re underwhelmed but hear me out. You see it’s not just any ol’ books or movies – we’ve been choosing stories which open our eyes and grab our hearts. Stories that prompt discussions about friendships, about privilege and courage about giving back and – most importantly of all – about kindness.
And that’s where the best-selling novel and movie Wonder comes in.
Wonder is the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, a boy with facial differences who – after years of home schooling – navigates his first year at a real school.
It’s an uplifting, feel-good story about difference and diversity and what real friendships look and feel like. It’s about courage, and most of all, the incredible, transformative power of kindness.
It’s impossible to read the novel or no doubt watch the film without wanting to be a part of the #ChooseKind movement the story promotes. You walk away from this story wanting to be a force for good.
But … how exactly do you do that?
Glad you asked.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to encourage kindness in our kids and model it as the adults in their lives.
1. Put down the device and put on an apron.
If there’s one thing kids love more than devices and watching YouTube videos of cats playing the piano … it’s a lemonade stand. RIGHT? There’s something about setting up a stall on the footpath outside your house and selling cupcakes or lemonade to passers-by. This year my daughter Ava is celebrating her ninth birthday with a bake sale with her friends. Instead of presents, we’re asking guests to bring ingredients and the kids will be busy baking, decorating, making posters and selling their delicious fare to raise money for The Pyjama Foundation (a wonderful organisation who send “Reading Angels” into the homes of foster kids). Getting kids involved in charities (particularly ones which help other kids) is a terrific way to help them realise and appreciate the advantages they may experience in life as well as foster a sense of gratitude and empathy for others.
Of course, kindness can be taught in small everyday gestures too. It all starts at home.
2. Get one, give one.
In our house, we’re huge fans of GIVIT KIDS whose motto is “where kind kids give all kinds of things”. Log on to their website (www.givitkids.org.au) and you’ll find a list of items disadvantaged kids around Australia have asked for via case workers or hospital staff. Today a small boy in hospital in Sydney has requested a BMX magazine to read in hospital. A little girl has requested a copy of The Wonky Donkey. The site is cleverly set up so that each party – the recipient and the giver – remain anonymous to protect everyone’s privacy. Over the years we’ve donated Spiderman toys, Frozen costumes knowing that an item we no longer play with will be well loved by another child.
3. Read. read. read.
A 2013 study published in Science magazine claimed that reading fiction helps us become more empathetic. After all, spending time walking in a character’s shoes helps us to better understand other people and why they see the world in a certain way. Stories like Wonder (by R.J. Palacio), I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Ugly by Robert Hoge and Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo are beautifully crafted books (fiction and non-fiction) which allow tweens and teens to walk in the shoes of a narrator whose life may be vastly different or eerily similar to their own. Being able to experience someone else’s reality and the consequences of their choices helps develop our empathy, which in turn prompts us to respond with kindness.
4. Start a kindness challenge.
Maybe it’s a weekly challenge. Maybe it’s a Christmas challenge. But why not start up your own #ChooseKind movement at home? Encourage your kids to think up and carry out one good deed each week (or every day in December). Small acts of kindness can change the world. In fact, the #ChooseKind challenge is really easy - you just fill up a jar with tokens representing random acts of kindness, pop a #ChooseKind/Wonder label printed out from here, and get a "Certified Kind" certificate if you send it to [email protected].
Mamamia is taking the challenge, too, take a look:
5. Be the change you want to see.
If you want kind kids, you need to model that behaviour yourself. When a friend has the flu or is going through a tough time, talk through with your kids ideas of how you could help. Let them help you create care packages and drop them off on someone’s doorstep. The more you show compassion and empathy for others in your day to day conversations and behaviour, the more your children will learn to see the world through that lens.
6. Play Traffic Light Gratitude.
I’m big on gratitude journals and the evidence is in on how powerful gratitude is on helping us to feel more content with out lives. And, of course when we see our own lives as being full we are more likely to operate from a place of generosity and kindness with those around us. But in our busy lives, gratitude journals can be hard to stick with. My friend Robin has a game where she has to think of three things she’s grateful for when she stops at traffic lights on her way to work. Or you could try making it a dinner table question for the kids to answer.
7. Prioritise kindness.
In our house, my daughter knows that we’re more interested in her teacher’s feedback about her character than we are about her grades. Sure, grades are important, but the foundation of my daughter’s future lies with her ability to be a good human being. Is she a team player? A kind classmate? Does she show compassion? Integrity? It’s the first thing we look for in her report cards when they come home and we make a big deal about any awards she receives from school demonstrating compassion and empathy to others.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Wonder.