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Kindness Can Be Counterintuitive When You're a Parent
“Kindness is wisdom.” – Phillip James Bailey
Kindness is supposed to be simple and straightforward, right? Not necessarily. Just ask any parent about what is truly kind when it comes to raising kids, and you’ll find that a lot of it is far from intuitive. Here are few examples.
To Help or Not to Help
Our intention: We want to help our kids succeed.
When you see someone struggling, it’s usually pretty obvious that the nice thing to do is to jump in and give them a hand. But that’s not always the best thing for children. Kids struggle with all kinds of things, from tying their shoes to navigating the social structure of high school. Sometimes, they really do need our help, but other times it’s better to let them work things out on their own. Before you leap to action, consider what your child should be able to handle at this age.
The kind approach: If what they are attempting is age-appropriate, but they’re having a hard time of it, let them know that you’re available to help, but give them a chance to try (and even fail) before you assist. Without regular opportunities to try new things and to struggle to overcome obstacles (and sometimes fail), children can learn to be helpless and may be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
Praise is Always Nice, Right?
Our intention: We want our kids to have healthy self-esteems and to feel that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done, and kids are no exception. So why not pile on the praise when your kids are fantastic in every way? Counterintuitive as it might be, too much praise can actually cause kids to avoid trying new things, put less effort into what they do and even fabricate the outcome of their efforts in order to continue to win praise from their parents.
The kind approach: Be moderate with praise but offer (appropriately) enthusiastic observations for every day tasks. For example, instead of telling your four-year-old: “What a gorgeous outfit you’ve put on! You must be a fashion prodigy!” You can say: “Look at that; you got dressed all by yourself!”
“No.” That’s Just Mean
Our intention: We want our kids to have a positive outlook and to feel like their ideas are valid.
A lot of parents find themselves saying “yes” or not saying “no” far too often in an effort to avoid discouraging their kids. But sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for our kids is to say “no.” It feels particularly counterintuitive when they’re asking for something perfectly reasonable. And lots of people would argue that we should say “yes” as much as possible. But there has to be a limit, or you’ll burn yourself out and teach your kids they can have anything they ask for nicely. Unfortunately, this can lead to entitlement, boundaries that are too flexible, and acting out when things don’t go their way.
The kind approach: Consider all the factors, including safety, your own emotional or scheduling limits and what’s best for the whole family before saying “yes” to a request. Dr. Sears offers a number of creative ways to communicate “no” without actually saying the word, which can be just as effective in teaching limits and appropriate expectations.
Parenting with kindness is a laudable goal no matter how you approach it. Kindness requires a certain amount of wisdom—not only about what is happening right now but also how it will affect the future. Maybe that’s what makes it so tricky; sometimes it’s really hard to see that while eating candy right now will make our kids happy, waiting an hour for dinner is the kinder (and smarter) option.
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