How can I teach my children to be kind? I have noticed a tendency to put down, gossip about, or find fault in others. I also have family members who love to judge others and do a lot of joking at others' expense. It's very upsetting to me. What can I do to encourage my family to be kinder?
Answer: First, I want you to understand that we all have a subconscious tendency to see people in a negative light, which is at the heart of our unkindness (and our low self-esteem). We do it to ourselves and others.
Without consciously realizing it, you automatically look for differences in everyone, and we are constantly trying to figure out where we fit and how we compare to others. This creates a subconscious tendency to focus on the bad in other people, because if you can find a reason to see them as worse than you, it makes you feel like the good guy, or better and safer (and you have less fear of failure). It doesn’t even matter what the criteria of comparison or division is; we latch onto anything that sets us apart. We look for any difference that makes us feel better, kinder, taller, richer, or more anything than the other people around us. We will even divide ourselves based on our preferences seeing Coke people as better than the Pepsi people, Mac people as smarter than PC people, or mayo people as better than Miracle Whip people. Then, we see these others, whether they cheer for the other college team or look different or act different from us, as the enemy. We also look for others, who are on our side, who validate our worth in their mutual hate for the enemy. Remember, we do this because if we can cast another group as the bad guys that makes us feel like the good guys. This fear-based tendency is the cause of most of the problems on the planet. Most of our wars, racism, prejudice, backbiting and bullying all come from our ego’s need to feel better than other people. This behavior is driven by a deep subconscious core fear of not being good enough that we all have to some degree. We create these divisions to give us a sense of self-worth and make us feel special. The problem is that though this behavior may make you feel better about yourself for a moment, it doesn't last. It doesn't produce real self-worth, and it is literally giving power to the idea that some people are better than others and you must prove your worth, which will create a lifetime of low self-esteem.
If you watch human nature enough you will see low-self esteem and judging and criticizing others always go hand in hand. They create each other, and the more you do one, the more you get the other.
The most important thing you must teach your children is that all human beings have the same intrinsic worth no matter what. We are all unique, divine, irreplaceable, infinitely valuable souls, fighting our way through the classroom of life, scared and struggling most of the time, doing the best we can with what we know. Because life is a classroom, not a test, our value isn't in question though. It is not on the line at all. Our value is infinite and absolute and does not change ever. You must teach your children to see every person on the planet as having the same intrinsic value they do. These people may be in very different classes and in a different place in their unique journey, but their value is the same. Teach your children (and adopt for yourself) this idea as a core belief and it will make your entire life better. You will have more compassion for others and better self-esteem. If you will work on establishing this idea as a core belief in your family and talk about it daily with your children, it will make a profound difference on their kindness. Also, watch for the tendency to compare and divide and use teaching moments to talk about truth and bring compassion to the situation. Here are a few other suggestions for teaching your children to see other people as the same as them:
- You must model compassionate behavior yourself. Kindness is taught by example. Your children must hear you being tolerant, kind and patient with people who are different from you.
- Never gossip about or put down other people. This sends the message it’s OK to criticize others and see them as less than you.
- Discourage teasing in your family. Teasing is often hostility and judgment in disguise. If you think it’s funny to put others down as a joke, you give your children license to do the same. Help children see other people accurately by understanding why they behave the way they do.
- Praise the good in other people. Validate, honor and respect their right to their opinions.
- Help children see the beauty in uniqueness and variety. A world full of different colors, talents and opinions is a beautiful thing. Celebrate the beauty of other cultures, ideas and opinions in your home. Encourage children to think for themselves and form their opinions while respecting others' right to do the same.
- Talk about truth often. When you see others making bad choices, explain that everyone is doing the best they can with what they know. They just don’t always know enough yet. Never refer to other people as stupid. Show your children an example of compassion for people who are struggling.
- Apologize when you are wrong. This shows children there is no shame in being wrong. It’s OK to admit when you make bad choices and it doesn’t make you a bad person. We are all a work in progress.
- Encourage children to celebrate other people’s wins. Their good fortune doesn’t take anything away from you. It doesn’t diminish you in any way. Help your children find joy in cheering for other people — especially each other.
- Don’t criticize rich people or poor people. Help your children understand that we have the same value. We just have different strengths and we are on a different journey and learning different lessons. Watch for all divisions and make sure they know divisions don't affect value.
- Praise children for being kind. Help them understand that their appearance, property and performance don’t determine their value — their character does. Praise them more for being a good person than you do for their successes and wins.
If you have adults or grown children in your family who are being unkind, set a good example and make sure you never start gossip-based conversations. You can also change the topic, if they go down that road, by asking a question about something else. You can steer any conversation in a more positive direction. You may also want to try what I call the “Encouragement Technique.” You can't really change other people, but if you handle this right, you can encourage them to want to change themselves, and then everyone wins. Here is how it works: Look for an opportunity, when it seems natural, to thank this person for being such a kind and compassionate person. Tell them how much you appreciate their kindness toward others and how you never hear them say an unkind word about anyone and how much you admire that.
You will do this even if it's not true. This is not lying, it is seeing the highest best in them before they are even demonstrating it. They have this goodness in their somewhere. This is about seeing the wonderful loving person they have a capacity to be and helping them to see it.
You should only have to say this once or twice and this person will not gossip or be unkind to others in your presence again. They may stop gossiping completely. This will work because people want to live up to our highest opinion of them. If you see them as a kind person, they will want to be that.
People are also more motivated to change themselves when you see good in them than they are when you point out their flaws or mistakes. This technique works with any kind of human behavior you want to change. Just sincerely compliment them in that area often, and you will project them with positivity in that direction.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book “Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness” and a popular life coach and speaker.