Your kid is polite to the support staff at home, is helpful, well-mannered and greets the neighbors. Nice kids are great but are they kind as well? Can kindness and empathy be taught?
With Christmas just around the corner, parents are being bombarded with wish lists. R.S., an 11-year-old, wants an expensive video game along with a new branded jacket and a pair of sports shoes. On being admonished that all this is too expensive, he immediately counters that his mother has just bought a costly bracelet when she already has more jewels than she needs. Comfortable in the knowledge that his parents can very well afford all this, R.S. is holding his ground.
Then there is Anay, another 11-year-old, who has always seen his mother help out with children at a not-for-profit organisaton. Helping others, especially those less fortunate, comes naturally to him. Recently, he collected spare blankets from the neighborhood to donate at an animal shelter near his home.
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In both the examples, children are simply mirroring what they have seen. Kids are astute observers, they absorb behaviors and actions around them, and often emulate those. If parents are kind, that empathy is bound to seep into the kids as well. Freelance writer, Nupur Roopa recalls her grandmother offering tea and nimbu pani to all the support staff at home, and she continues to do the same “I am sure that my daughter will continue doing that,” she adds.
Kindness, it seems, can be taught, “though not by preaching” says Kamala Thiagarajan, an independent journalist. “Just preaching will get exaggerated eye-rolls, especially from teens.” Teaching by example does work. In a world that is getting more and more self-absorbed, it becomes all the more necessary for parents and teachers to model kindness.
Sreemati Sen, a social activist, remembers how a community feeding program for neighborhood dogs resulted in her children adopting their indie pet, Khoi, in 2020. Now 14 and eight years of age, the kids accompany Sen whenever she volunteers with not-for-profits, which has resulted in both being grounded as well as empathetic.
It is lovely when children show such spontaneous empathy, but equally amazing is how much children can do once they are shown how to do so.
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Schools or teachers can start kindness-drives for the approaching Christmas season. What better time to be grateful and generous? NGOs like AngelXpress in Mumbai work with schools to organise donation drives around festivals. Recently a volunteer for AngelXpress contacted a school for a donation drive and the students happily brought in stationary items, board games and books for the children at the NGO.
Kindness really doesn’t have to be big, something as little as offering a cup of steaming tea during harsh winter is really what kindness is all about. A back-rub, a shoulder to lean on, a clean room without being told – all are acts of kindness at home. In the community, something as simple as a kind word to a friend, running an errand for an elderly neighbor, offering some food or shelter to a stray animal, a sweater to a needy person or a toy to someone who doesn’t have one, are also some examples. Like they say, where there is a will, there is a way. Once you have helped your kid on the way to kindness, they will become “serial do-gooders!”
Being kind to others is also a way of being kind to yourself. There is evidence that being empathetic helps your heart and mental health. It improves your well-being and makes you feel more connected to the world around you.
Madhumita Gupta is an independent writer.