My 7- year old came back from her evening play- drowned in tears and utterly broken.
She was the new kid on the block and there were strong groups that were already formed. She was finding it difficult to break through the groups and was witness to some unwelcome comments about her 'fitment' into the team. If she wanted to join in a game that was already being played, the rules of the game suddenly changed and it required the exact number of players that were already part of it. If she proposed a new game, it was excruciatingly 'boring' and they 'would rather die' than play it.
In short, she was being bullied by being singled out. And, even though we might deny it, kids can get mean.
As parents and other significant adults, what role can we play in modelling kindness to children? The foremost phase to make an impression of kindness on the kid is to be kind to him/her when the child is going through a tough phase himself.
Spot the signs- Some signs are easy to notice- like that black eye or the bruise on the hand. Others need you to notice. And talk. And prod. And care.
A child could show sudden resistance to joining her friends for an activity that she used to love earlier. Or she could suddenly be sleeping in fits. If these happen, you could place a fair bet on bullying. However, it might be difficult for a chid to open up on his own, in which case you could use some conversation starters like 'I couldn't sleep well last night and I noticed you didn't too- What could it be?' . You child needs to know that whatever happens to him is really worth talking about; however trivial it may seem!
Listen attentively: What your child tells you may not coincide with your world of office deadlines and real estate prices, but it is the world to him at that point. Listening attentively when your child speaks to you- without being upset or angry will not only offer him support and comfort on the issue at hand, but also re-assure him that you are the go-to person in the future as well. It is also the best way to inculcate a core habit of kindness- which is to pay attention.
Make the effort count: Baring their hearts is as difficult for kids as it is for adults. When you child does it, make sure you acknowledge and appreciate their effort in doing so.
My daughter once took dancing classes with great interest and really looked forward to those classes every week. Suddenly one day, she refused to go and even worse- refused to tell us why she didn't want to go. After a lot of coaxing, we got to understand that she had wet her pants unwittingly during a session and was highly embarrassed to face the crowd. She was only four!
Appreciating her attempt to overcome her own shame was a big learning for us as well. It also must have been a huge relief for her, since the spotlight was off her behaviour, it counted as just one incident. A big lesson in practicing kindness is to fix the problem, not the person.
Involve them: When faced with a tough problem, most decisions are taken out of the child's hands because they expect the adult to decide for them. This is a great time for them to know the different ways a problem could be handled. This is also the right time to tell them that the bully might be having a bad day himself. When children see that bullies could be bullying because they need help, they turn to kinder options.
Identify emotions: Empathy begins with being aware of one's own feelings. Encourage them to identify how they felt when they were being bullied. Science has shown say that identifying feelings is the first step to regulating them.
A variety of tools to help kids identify with their feelings are available.
Kindness is just a combination of awareness and mindful choices. If children are provided enough opportunities to identify and justify their emotions and of others, it is but natural that they will be kind adults.