This year, instead of simply asking your children how they will have a better school year in terms of school, sports and activities, ask them how they can become a better person.
by Jordan DeWald
August brings all types of preparation for the new school year- shopping for new school uniforms, athletic physicals, getting the necessary school supplies, finding the perfect lunchbox for a Kindergartner and the perfect first day outfit for a fifteen-year-old. We do the necessary steps like adjusting from summer sleeping schedules back to a structured bedtime. Conversations start happening to guarantee a successful school year such as staying organized, time management and good study skills. In all of the preparation for a good school year there is an important conversation that can’t be left out though, and that is the character your child demonstrates and the kind of friend they can be.
Kids spend over seven hours a day at school with kids and adults they will need to interact with. That is a significant part of their day with new people and the odds are there will be personality, communication and behavior differences. The start to school is a great time to address how they can positively interact and show kindness in their everyday activities.
As adults, it is our responsibility to demonstrate kindness as an example for the younger generations. It cannot be expected that kids and teens will treat other people with respect if they do not see it modeled by adults first. It is a good time to evaluate the your own attitudes and behaviors and consider if they are what you want your kids mimicking. Consider ways you can model kindness.
Show Respect to Authority
Kids will take their cues from adults about how they should treat the adults at school. How you speak about a child’s teacher at home will shape their attitude of the teacher. A child will learn more from a teacher they respect and trust. It sets the child up with an unfair advantage if they hear their parents speak negatively about or see them rudely treat the teachers and staff the child must listen to at school. This includes how a parent responds to the rules set forth by the leadership. If a parent acts like the rules do not apply, the child will naturally think that is the same for them.
Interact with a Diverse Group of People
It is a guarantee that your child will interact with someone at school who thinks, believes, looks or acts in a way that is not the exact same as what a child is used to. Parents can directly influence, whether positively or negatively, how a child responds to someone with differences. Have a diverse group of friends. When diversity is a normal part of a child’s everyday life, they will have fewer roadblocks in interacting with a classroom of kids with differences. They will learn how to appreciate and learn from all people. Kids will take their cues from adults about how they should treat people. If a child hears a parent speak negatively of someone because they are of a different race or cultural background, they are likely going to transfer that negative belief to their classmates with different races or backgrounds.
Some kids will behave differently than what they like to be around. It is important for kids to learn how to interact and work with kids of all behaviors and attitudes because that is a situation they will continue to face for the rest of their lives. Encourage them to show patience and find ways to interact with those students. If they are behaviors that the child should not imitate, talk to your child about how to distance their self from the actions of the kid without entirely distancing from the kid itself.
Encourage kids to include everyone. Lisa Boultinghouse with Center for ASD offers some tips for helping kids to interact and welcome students with learning, intellectual or developmental differences. She encourages both parents and children to ask questions to learn how the child can be a better friend to the classmate with special needs. Find out the classmates interests and participate in a conversation about that. Learn the ways to interact that makes the classmate comfortable and include them in social groups. Don’t neglect inviting the classmate to birthday parties, especially when the rest of the class is invited and excitedly talking about it. For older kids, simply engage the classmate by saying hello and walking with them in the hallway. Just because children are by themselves does not mean they want to be alone so make the effort to include those students.
Demonstrate Healthy Online Behavior
There is a big concern about online bullying among teens. When you look responses to news articles, comments on community Facebook pages or groups and personal posts though, it is clear that adults are not modeling respectful behavior online. The most important thing a child needs to understand is that anyone they interact with online is a real person and should be treated with respect and care towards their feelings. Anything they post, tweet, snap, share is a reflection on themselves and can be seen by anyone. A good tip is if you have the desire to post something combative or negative, no matter how “right” you think you are, write it out but give yourself 30 minutes before hitting send then go back and reread it to decide if it is worth posting. Also consider whom you would want to read what you post. If any particular person reading it would embarrass you, it’s not something you should post. It is important to teach kids that no matter how private they think something online is, it really isn’t and there are significant consequences.
Look for opportunities to show kindness.
Kids witness how you treat everyone you interact with. If you are kind to wait staff and store employees, kids notice. Take the time to start conversations, show politeness and go out of your way to help someone and your kids will learn to naturally show kindness to the people they interact with.
The unfortunate reality is that not all kids will be making the effort to show kindness. As an adult, it is important to help them learn to respond to those people too. Gracie Barra in Burleson, a Jiu-Jitzu School in Burleson offers the following information to help children respond to bullying.
Bullying seems to play a part in almost everyone’s life at some point. Even middle-aged adults can easily recall an incident when they were bullied as a child. With so many sharing in this unpleasant experience, teaching tools to stop bullying behavior is imperative. As a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Professor Buddy Roberts recognizes that skills developed in the discipline can also be helpful in dealing with bully behavior. Even having just a few strategies can help arm a child when encountering bullies:
Show Strength By Being Assertive
Bullies are aggressive, and one way to counter that behavior is by being assertive. Kids can show assertiveness by looking at the aggressor right in the eye and speaking with a strong, confident voice. These actions demonstrate strength, showing the bully that they do not hold all the power. Using assertive phrases when challenged by a bully is also a show of strength; having just a few, such as “you aren’t going to have many friends if you act like that” or simply, ‘that’s mean,” can make a big difference.
Encourage Kids to Share With Trusted Adults
Bullies thrive on making others feel powerless. One of the ways to challenge that behavior is for a child to seek help from an adult. Bullies who realize that their victim has the strength to reach out and ask for help lose their power to bully. Kids who enlist the help of adults bring attention to often unknown situations.
Just as modeling is an effective teaching tool for adults to use with kids, it can be as effective for kids in their interaction with other kids. By showing respect, politeness and care for other people’s feelings, kids are demonstrating those behaviors, and the good consequences, to others. This is can be hard, and requires a lot of patience, but can be fruitful.
Open the conversation for your child to share their feelings about how they are treated by others. Let them feel free to talk and don’t downplay their feelings. You can help reframe the situation but do so while recognizing that this is a big deal to your child. Think back to when you were a kid and how important social interactions were.
Be sure to affirm your kids. Recognize their good qualities and let them hear you praise them. If they are being discouraged or their feelings are hurt by other kids, they need the safety at home to know they are loved and that the people who know them think positively about them.
Ana Homayoun, author and educator, suggests the following as you prepare for going back to school:
“So, this year, instead of simply asking your children how they will have a better school year in terms of school, sports and activities, ask them how they can become a better person. How can they be a person who is inclusive, has good character and treats others with kindness? To whom will they introduce themselves? How will they actively be part of their school community? What can they do when they see someone sitting alone? Which classmates can they make an effort to get to know?”
We all have choices. Learning how to err on the side of kindness is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. It is the first step to show them how to live a life without regret. And that very well may be the most powerful childhood lesson of all.