As a parent to a 5-year-old, I’ve done what I can to teach him to be kind: kind to waiters, taxi drivers, his grandparents, other kids, the planet and anyone really. We have focused on eye contact, listening and not interrupting, doing kind things for others and polite manners. I’ve taught him that everyone is equal; no one is better or worse. All jobs are valuable. Everyone is worthy of love.
What I’ve realized recently is that there is a form of kindness that is way more important: Self-Kindness. This is what we say to ourselves both out loud and in our quiet moments when no one is listening, during the moments when we’ve messed up and feel awful.
When I am kind to myself, I naturally show up kinder to others. I’m patient. My bucket is full of compassion for anyone that might be unkind. I’m more able to control my own emotions, thoughts, words, and actions. I am able to choose to be kind and not just react. And it’s the same for kids. So now in our house, the most important is to be kind to ourselves first.
What does that mean exactly?
1) When we say mean things, we let it all out. We acknowledge the feelings. Then we use the phrase Cancel-Cancel if we hear anything resembling self-meanness. We sometimes shake it off the body (like a dog who just got wet!) Yes, it looks quite funny.
2) We appreciate our body and treat it well (yes as a parent, no negative comments about your wrinkles, body or life! Your kids are always listening.) And yes, it means, good food, sleep, movement…for all of us.
3) No beating yourself up after you’ve done or said something you know you shouldn’t have. Instead, we move to forgiveness and repairing when we are ready. We use the Hoʻoponopono prayer from Hawaii:
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.”
4) We all practice and say the following mantra:
“I’m a great kid. I make mistakes and I’m still learning” or
“I’m a great Mom/Dad. I make mistakes and I’m still learning.”
5) We say I AM’s on the way to school in the morning:
“I am amazing. I’m healthy. I’ve got great ideas. I’m generous. I’m smart…”
My son loves these and can say 20 different ones in a row.
Sometimes, its harder for me. It’s not something that is normal for grown ups!
The worst moments I’ve witnessed my son go into suffering are when he beats himself up. For small things. I see the beginning of guilt, shame, or not feeling good enough. Or worse: the fear a 5-year-old has, that maybe, love will be taken away.
And I see it in myself. When I turn the whip on me. I did something I regret. I made a decision I shouldn’t have. I lost my cool. My natural tendency is to go into ‘un self-kindness.” And so now, my main focus is to keep being kind to myself no matter what. I let things go quickly. I leave things in the day and don’t drag them into the next. Guilt used to be my middle name.
I have a ‘wrap up the day’ meditation exercise I do with my son. In bed, after story time, we scan his body, head, throat, heart, stomach, legs for any feelings and emotions that need to be let go of. He often can name one or a few and tell me where it is. Sometimes I ask if it has a name, or color or shape. We don’t go into why its there, what happened during the day or any story about it. That just perpetuates it. He is not these feelings. I’ve told him, they are like clouds in the sky. Feelings that move through his small body.
When he is ready, and he tells me when, we take deep breaths and move them out. I put my hand on where the feeling is located and imagine pulling it out like glue. He tells me when the feeling is gone, when he is back to Self-love. Self-kindness. Feeling like he is peaceful and calm on the inside.
And then he is ready for prayers and sleep. Unburdened by difficult emotions that he experienced during his day. Sometimes, there are no feelings to move and breathe through.
It’s part of being kind to yourself and especially your own body. I’ve explained to him that his incredible body that grows and heals and rests at night, doesnt want to go to sleep with these feelings coursing through it.
He is learning what is good/not good for himself.
Self-Kindness is about body, mind and spirit. When all three are in balance, kids are naturally kind to other kids, to other grown ups, to nature, to the world.
Kindness to others is a bit overrated in my mind when the person doing it, isn’t first being kind to themselves. Some days I give myself a 3 out of 10 on Self-Kindness. But I notice it fast. I repair fast. I stop the self-abuse. As parents/care givers, we really need to do this inner work first before insisting on kids doing it.
Self-Kindness leads to self-love, to self-forgiveness, to self-control and eventually to accepting yourself as human. This then leads to loving others, forgiving others, controlling your words/actions with others and accepting others for their humanity.
We work on it daily in our household. It’s not something I was taught when I was younger. So I need to learn it for myself so I can embody it as an example for my own child.
And of course, kindness to others and Self-Kindness are two sides of the same coin! They get stronger together.