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 spiritual 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,
PS – In what situations do you find yourself inadvertently encouraging your children to deny themselves by telling them to “be nice”? Comment below.
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I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this. Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!” And why shouldn’t he? That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do. But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)
Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day. I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven. Or struggling to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up. Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.
So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me? It fills me with both tenderness and guilt. When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love. But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches? Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate. It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right. And perhaps I won’t.
REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY
When we play with our children, we affirm them. We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter. Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect. When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”. We find out lots about our children when we play with them too. We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams. When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.
There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason. Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently. When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier. They needed us to connect.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –
5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN
Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none. When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should. It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much. He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me. I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do. In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect. When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast. After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
Plan an extended play time togetheroccasionally For me, this works best in the weekends. I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my boys.
Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I might join my boys in whatever they’re playing while it suits me. If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest something I think we’ll all enjoy to do together. So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.
IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT
Playing with our children is obviously not unique to spiritual parenting styles. But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships. I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for. I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun. And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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