In a world gone mad, we can give the next generation the gift of kindness by helping our kids grow up to be good people.
After a year of tumultuous global politics (to say the least), the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria and the rise of cyber bullying, it feels more important than ever that we teach our children — our most vulnerable citizens, but also our best hope for the future — to be kind. But in a world awash with cynicism and apathy, how the heck are we meant to do that?
KINDNESS BEGINS AT HOME according to . “Yes, it’s important to think about global events and to teach our kids perspective, but the easiest and most effective way to teach kindness is by modelling it ourselves.”
EASIER SAID THAN DONE, OF COURSE — particularly when you’re overworked, stressed, sleep-deprived and perhaps not feeling too kindly yourself. “This is where it helps to remember that you’re the adult,” says Jocelyn, laughing. “We are the older, wiser, more emotionally regulated humans who have the mental resources to take the proverbial deep breath and model the target behaviours we want to see in our family, and also the wider community.” And while sometimes being kind is the very last thing we feel like doing, says Jocelyn, it is actually at moments like these when it’s most important. “It’s all well and good to be a good person when you’re feeling up for it,” she says, “but we need to teach our kids that this is the way we want them to be all the time. So we have to step up to the plate, too.”
TEACHING KINDNESS DOESN’T NEED TO BE DIFFICULT — it’s really about being observant, says Jocelyn. “Look around when you’re out and about,” she says. “It’s important to teach kids to notice situations outside of themselves, like an elderly man who needs help with his groceries, or a mum with a newborn who looks like she could use a hand getting into her car.” And don’t discount the power of everyday interactions, says Jocelyn. “Practise looking people in the eye and smiling or giving ‘kind-eyed’ looks,” she says. “Create a habit of saying hello to people, like preschool teachers, baristas and shop assistants. This is one of the smallest but most powerful acts of kindness.”
ON A MORE MACRO LEVEL, it’s important to teach kids about the world around them, too. “Read books about other countries and other people’s experiences,” says Jocelyn. “Give your kids context to understand that not everybody lives the way they do, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly they build a sense of empathy.” Encourage discussion about these issues, says Jocelyn, and have your kids offer solutions. “A friend of mine did the Ration Challenge, where you eat the same food in the same portions as Syrian refugees for a week. She explained it to her young twins, who were inspired to do their own mini-version of the challenge, and raise funds.”
THAT SAID, kindness shouldn’t be an exceptional event, like donating money or doing a special activity. “Kindness should be part of your everyday life,” says Jocelyn. “And the best way to teach your kids that is to do it yourself.”
ONE COUPLE WALKING THE TALK
When husband and wife Derek and Jen Woodgate saw a documentary about the devastating impact of hunger on millions of children around the world, they were inspired to do something to help make a real difference. In response, they started , a business which creates hand-knitted dolls, such as Noah the dog (top). For every doll sold they give 10 meals to children in need. Not only that, the dolls are created by skilled female artisans in Peru who receive a sustainable, fair trade income for their work. In this way, Derek and Jen are living their values and modelling them to their three young children. To buy a doll or for more information, visit
BOOKS TO BUILD EMPATHY
IMAGINE by John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien (Frances Lincoln, $24.99) Set to the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine, this story follows one little pigeon’s mission to spread tolerance around the world to every bird, no matter what shape, size or colour they are.
THE BABY HEDGEHOG by Tina Nolan (Little Tiger Press Group, $14.99) When Eva finds Barney the baby hedgehog alone in a barn she takes him home to her parents’ animal rescue centre. Soon she is wondering if his brothers and sisters need help, too.
ERIK THE LONE WOLF by Sarah Finan (Frances Lincoln, $21.99)
The rules in Erik’s wolf family say you must always stick with the pack. One day, he decides to have an adventure all on his own. But will his newfound independence be worth the risks?
HATS OF FAITH by Medeia Cohan (Little Hare Books, $14.99) Familiarise your little one with the cultural diversity of our world through the shared custom of head coverings. The illustrated board book uses phonetic pronunciation, accurate terminology, and bright imagery.
WE’RE ALL WONDERS by RJ Palacio (Penguin Books, $16.99)
August Pullman is just an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. He feels like any other kid but he is not always seen that way. This book introduces concepts of difference and kindness to kids.
DOLLY & JACK: DEEP BREATHS by Carol Thompson (Little Hare Books, $19.99) When Dolly paints a picture of Jack that looks like a slug and Jack paints a picture of Dolly that looks like a pumpkin, they stop talking. But after time to calm down they realise they can’t stay angry forever.