Five Pre-requisites for Kindness

Frequently, I hear adults and educators tell kids to be kind. While it is a great sentiment, how do we suggest kids be kind in times they are struggling themselves? For instance, many children have to deal with tough family situations, lack of food and lack of safety. They aren’t getting their needs met on the regular. The saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” So, if someone is having difficulty coping or being their best self, how can they give kindness to others? It can be challenging, even for us as adults.

It is not enough to give kids advice; we have to share with them the HOW of what it means to do it. We, as adults, have to fill in some of these blanks for kids so they know what we mean. Kindness can look different to different people. I know when I was a great deal younger, I thought that I was being kind by telling people how I felt and what I thought they needed to hear. After all, that is what I wanted others to do for me. Needless to say, that did not go very well often times because people weren’t ready to hear what I had to say much less hold space for my feelings. As I grew older, I figured out there were some pre-requisites that I needed in order to be kind to others:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Examine what it means to do self-care and show your own self love. Explore answers to questions like: Do you mentally beat yourself up when you make a mistake or do you give yourself compassion? What does kindness mean to you? Do you get enough sleep at night? What do you need to be successful?
  2. Understand there is a limit to helping- it is not always kind. While helping has its place and can convey kindness, it is important to know the difference between enabling and helping. Enabling is about doing things for someone without them asking or allowing a “bad” behavior to occur by not setting our own boundaries and respecting ourselves. We may put others needs before our own as a result. This can lead to codependency and self-abandonment. Additionally, doing things for people that they can do for themselves can be detrimental as it can rob them of their own success. Helping does not mean doing their learning or work for them. However, we can help others by asking clarifying questions, taking time to listen, and giving moral support.
  3. Let people determine the kindness (help) they need. It may surprise you, but we may not have the same meaning for kindness. When I was younger, I thought it was kind to share my feelings with others and tell people what I thought they needed to hear. I thought truth-telling was kind no matter what the circumstance. I thought I was being helpful and being helpful was kind. The thing that I didn’t consider was their feelings. I didn’t know tact or other social skills. There was no consideration for where they were at and how to say things so they could hear what I had to say. I never asked, “What do you think kindness means?” I didn’t develop a deeper connection/relationship with them because I assumed that I knew what kind of help or form of kindness they needed. Thankfully, I learned how to show up better in relationships as I grew older.
  4. Learn to tolerate difference. We are all different and we all have varying experiences and values. Often times, we encounter people whose struggles are different than ours and their behavior doesn’t align with how we think they should behave. If we allow it, this can result in us being frustrated, angry, or sad. These type of reactions can drive a wedge in the relationship if we allow our emotion rule over us instead of regulating our emotion. It is everyone’s right to make their own choices and we have no control over someone’s behavior. However, we do have control over our own. If we can learn how to hold space for others to share their beliefs with us and appreciate our differences, it is easier to reach for kindness and love than judgment and control.
  5. Know we are not all starting the race from the same place. Adversities, trauma, misfortunes, and other life experiences can impact our development and learning. Our ethnicity, age, gender, yield different life experiences. What might come easy for one person, may not come easy to another. There are cultural barriers, societal pressures, and family traditions that can impact our mental health and wellbeing. We do not start life from the same place.

For me, kindness means operating in love and acceptance. Kindness also means setting boundaries out of self-respect. Helping comes with the responsibility of knowing what I need and asking for it. It is kind to take time to know myself so I can communicate what I need in relationships with others. Bravery is required to ask for help and be kind, particularly when others choose not to help or be kind to us in return. May these five pre-requisites help you discern how you can be kinder to yourself and others.

Trauma-informed educator, expressive artist, writer