It costs nothing. It takes no effort. It yields immense power and has the potential to significantly alter mind sets, change perceptions and inject joy into those who are touched by it.

Yet, with the rapidly escalating decline in family systems and societal values; where end goals have become more valuable than the needs of the individual, it seems to have become more of an exception- a rare jewel which often surprises us when it occurs. It stands at war with the villains of inconsideration, selfishness, cruelty, disrespect and callousness. And our children are paying the price.

On almost a weekly basis, and sometimes more frequently, I receive emails from heartbroken parents whose children are struggling tremendously because of ‘meanness’ from others, subtle playground manoeuvres and snide classroom comments. Behaviours we all too often excuse as ‘kids being kids’.

These parents sit on the couch in my consulting room and they weep because their children weep. Their hearts are burdened with the subtle yet cutting peer cruelties we too often underestimate. Some weeks ago, I became one of these parents. I felt the hurt amplified tenfold experiencing it helplessly through my son’s eyes, through my son’s sadness, and his confusion of negotiating the world as a place where unkindness, selfishness, nastiness and inconsideration flourish.

Although Christian is no saint, and our household is certainly not without its sibling spats, on the whole, his nature is to give, to share and to be kind. What we as adults too often excuse as ‘kids being kids’ had hurt him deeply and in the process made me acutely aware of both the constant need to be building resilience, and the importance of raising children who will stand out in the not-always-so-kind world we live in, children who will build up and work to sustain life, not to destroy it, children who will see the value of all living things- children who will be exceptional.

But the world we live in is harsh, and is mirrored in the actions of many children today. As a society, we excuse and even glance over these behaviours using the phrase, ‘but kids will be kids’. These behaviours are not ‘kids being kids’. Children who lack compassion and kindness, those who are selfish, those whose words cut deeply, and those who seek to belittle others- these are kids needing attention. They are kids needing love. They are kids needing adults to show them the right way to do things. Values on the playground reflect our world- where it’s the ‘All –about-me’ attitude, where we teach our children through example to do everything possible to get where they need to be, to get the things they want. Without even realising it, many parents are role modelling selfishness, inconsideration, a disregard for another’s emotions and a lack of value for the essence of family. When this happens, then ‘children will be troubled children’ and re-enact these behaviours, these mind sets, these attitudes- on the playground, in the classroom and in life.

I can’t eradicate the playground meanness, despite the tigress in me wanting to spring into action at all costs, but by focusing on raising empathetic, kind and caring children, I can contribute to making the world a little less heartless for others.

It’s in the small acts that the largest lessons are learnt. Our children will not learn kindness, nor will they experience it, if they do not observe it from their role models- if they do not observe it from us. Kids don’t see enough of it. They don’t experience enough of it. It takes nothing to greet the cashier by name, to ask them how their day has been, to wave to the rubbish collector, to thank the cleaner in the public toilets, to smile as you walk past others, to be encouraging, and to seek out the good in others.
We need to teach our children tolerance by embracing difference, we need to teach them a non-judgemental attitude by reminding them that there’s an unknown story behind everyone’s frown.

We need to reflect the world as we want our children to experience it. There are few greater gifts we can give to our children than teaching them values which make them assets, which make them into human beings who contribute to the world, who add to the value of the lives of those around them. As parents, whether we like it or not, we are our children’s greatest teachers; not through what we say, but through the small seemingly insignificant acts we do every single day.

We should not have to toughen our children up to survive a cruel world. We should be raising them to make the world more beautiful, more inhabitable and less cruel. Teach kindness. Teach compassion. Teach empathy. Be the person you want your child to become. Create a world you want them to live in. We need to be the exception, and in doing so, build exceptional children. Our world needs more of them.


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