I tell my boys these things with the best of intentions. It’s important to me that they treat others well. But I’ve been wondering recently whether telling them to “be nice” is what I really should be doing.
“Be nice” seems to imply that my boys should be sweet-as-pie to anyone and everyone all the time.
“Be nice” seems to suggest that they should censor what they say and do so that no one is upset by it.
“Be nice” seems to assume that what they think and feel doesn’t really matter as much as what the other person thinks and feels.
At the end of the day, “being nice” sometimes isn’t nice for them. It requires them to ignore their own thoughts and feelings for the sake of someone else’s, which contradicts two ideas at the heart of my soulful parenting approach. They are that –
* our role as parents is to empower our children to be themselves.
* we are all equals, regardless of our age, gender, intelligence…regardless of anything.
These beliefs mean that everyone’s thoughts and feelings, needs and wants count. As a parent, I feel a tension between teaching my children to be considerate of others and taking care of their own needs, which I wrote about in my blog post Walking the Tightrope of Parenting. I wrote –
“There are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.” – Julie
When I wrote the post, I had no solutions as to how to teach my boys to find this balance between their needs and other people’s but, maybe if I stop telling my boys to “be nice”, it would be a good start.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
So, if I’m not going to teach my boys to be “nice”, what am I going to teach them? I think what I’m really trying to get at are kindness and respect.
Kindness and respect are sincere and honest. They aren’t as sickly sweet as “nice”. They feel more mutual. Being kind because “I should” or “mummy told me to” isn’t kindness at all but obligation. When I’m really being kind, it’s because I want to so I benefit from the act of kindness as well as the recipient. Respect is only truly respectful when both parties are respected. When I resentfully sacrifice myself for another, it is not respect and not a true gift to the other.
5 Ways to Teach Kindness & Respect Rather than “Niceness”
Here are some ways I’m trying to shift my behaviour to help my boys honour both themselves and the other person in a situation.
Replace “nice” with “kind” or “respectful”. For example, if they’re shouting their disagreement with me or someone else, I’ll remind them that they can say what they need to but they must do so respectfully.
Be an example of kindness & respect myself. For example, I personally shy away from expressing my disagreement with others, often opting to be nice rather than honest. Here’s my chance to learn to be brave and to find the words to be honest in a way that is also kind & respectful of the other person.
Let them choose not to be nice if they can’t do so sincerely. For example, if they can’t willingly share a favourite toy with a visiting child, perhaps I shouldn’t make them. (Though I wouldn’t let them play with that toy in front the other child).
Notice and affirm their acts of kindness & respect. For example, tell them, “it was kind of you to let her go down the slide first”.
Talk with them about what feels “right” for them – For example, if I see that they did something nice for someone else but with resentment or, conversely, that they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction from being kind to another, I can talk with them about how they felt. This reflection will encourage them to honour themselves by using their internal sense of what’s right to make decisions.
It’s a complex thing, trying to teach our children to give only when it feels right for both themselves and the other person. Sometimes we intentionally choose to do something kind for another because we want it for them while still not wanting it for ourselves. It feels right, if not personally desirable. At 6 years old, Jake’s pretty tuned-in so I could introduce this concept to him but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp it fully until he’s much older.
IN SUMMARY – ME, WE & YOU
I want my boys to grow up with a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality. We is that middle ground between You and Me. But it’s not a stationary half-way spot where there’s a perfect, mutually-pleasing solution in each situation. In life’s usual messy way, it’s probably more a case of sometimes leaning further towards me and sometimes leaning closer to you.
Judging what to do each time takes a certain amount of skill that niceness doesn’t require. At 3 and 6 years of age, developmentally my boys are not yet able to judge it easily. It would be easier just to tell them to “be nice” – and probably looks better to other parents too. But I will be patient and persistent (as we parents are often called to be ) because we are being kinder and more respectful of our children if we teach them to be kind and respectful of others rather than nice.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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My boys and I had driven to visit my parents, music turned up, singing along merrily – or so I thought. When I parked the car and got out to undo my boys’ seatbelts, I saw that Jake had been crying.
“I miss you when I’m at school”, he sobbed.
I knew something was up.
I carefully probed around with a few questions and it came out that Jake has been having a few troubles with his friends recently. His description of what’s been going on was sketchy and, not being at school to see for myself, it’s hard to know what exactly has been happening.
For any parent, the thought of our child being disrespected in some way and feeling alone during a long day at school is crushing. We can probably all remember a time in our own childhood when we were the one in that position. I certainly can – for a period of time when I was five, my poor parents had to prise me off their bodies when they took me to school each morning. I’d cling on to them for dear life, not able to face the classmate who was bullying me. While Jake is still going to school largely happily, I’m anxious that his situation may deteriorate to the point that he starts clinging to me.
On top of not knowing what’s really going on, all this emotion (his and mine) makes it incredibly hard to handle. I’m a pretty reasonable and diplomatic person but my fear has its sleeves rolled up and is ready to get in there and fight for my son.
Fortunately, I wrote a blog post last week about parenting from Love instead of fear – must’ve been divine preparation for now because I can see that there is actually no fight to be had. I have realised that the way I handle this situation with Jake and his friends will be an example to him and I have to ask myself, Do I want to model Love or Fear?
As painful as it is to see my son in tears, I also see the potential for him to learn so much through this experience, if I choose.
“In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” ― Gabrielle Bernstein, The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith
CHOOSING LOVE: 5 LESSONS
We are all worthy. This is an opportunity to remind Jake of his inherent worth. He is worthy of being treated with respect, as we all are.
How to set boundaries. When sure of his worth, it will be easier for Jake to set boundaries. My husband and I have always encouraged him to respectfully tell children to stop when they’re doing something he doesn’t like. At the moment, his friends are testing his boundaries and it is my hope that Jake will learn to be insistent enough that others respect them.
The nature of truly unconditional love. I will not speak unkindly about his friends, label them as bad or encourage Jake to be unkind to them in return. I want him to see that my respect for others does not change because of their behaviour – I think that this is what unconditional love does.
How to go inward for his answers. In a situation such as this, it’s all too easy for worried parents to take over and try to manage the situation entirely ourselves – I am tempted to bombard Jake with my ideas about what he should do. I will discuss possible solutions with him but I told him that he needs to do what feels right for him and that I will support him. I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do and he asked me to talk with his teacher, which I have done.
How to take responsibility for himself. If Jake chooses to keep spending time with children who don’t treat him well, he’s exposing himself to the risk of being hurt. I can see, though, that he is conflicted. The children he has great fun with are the same ones who often end up being disrespectful and unkind. I know it’s not easy. Jake can also take responsibility by making sure he’s not participating in the same kind of behaviour that upsets him.
It would be easy to be too heavy-handed, letting my fearful fight-or-flight instinct kick in. Naturally, I want to protect Jake and a part of me wants to give the other children a talking-to and demand that the school keep them away from Jake. But that would not be a good example to Jake and all the bluster & controlling would be avoiding the real issues as well as the chance for Jake to learn.
Focussing on how “bad” the “mean kids” are is a waste of time – I can’t change them and the school staff are not at liberty to talk to me about other students for privacy reasons. What I can do is help Jake to choose his response to what is going on.
I want him to see that he can handle whatever comes his way.
IN SUMMARY – WORKING TOGETHER
I am hoping that, through working together with Jake and his teacher, the difficult dynamic within his group of friends can be amended. Jake is popular and his school is a friendly place – when I walk into his classroom in the mornings, lots of kids say “hi” to him and want him to join in with their play. Whatever’s going on may turn out to be a small blip in his friendships, it won’t necessarily decline into ongoing bullying. As a parent, my role is to be proactive while also showing my son both his own worth & capability and what it really means to Love. All situations we find ourselves in really are opportunities to fear or to love.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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