Why I’ve Stopped Telling My Children to “Be Nice”

“Be nice”.

“That’s not nice”.

“Speak nicely please”.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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”.
  5. 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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