Children mimic the behaviors of those whom they admire most, typically their parents. When kids are young, parents teach them how to eat, dress and wash themselves. These are the mechanics of growing up, but they are not the only learned lessons. Kindness is also a learned behavior.
While babies are "actual" babies, adults are too busy parenting to think of much else. Heck, parents of young children scarcely have time to focus on themselves, let alone tear down others. This is a blessing, as those sweet young eyes are watching our every move.
During kindergarten, the tiny humans start to grow up, and no longer suck up all the air in the room. They gain independence and become less needy. This, I believe, is when The Adult Kindness Shift occurs. This Kindness Shift does not afflict all parents, but when you come across an afflicted individual, beware!
Just like acne, cruelty is not reserved for the preteen set. As adults, reformed mean girls can return to their middle school ways, a man or woman who was ridiculed during his or her own formative years may become vengeful, and people who have amassed professional success can start to look down on others. Sadly, truly kind people may even succumb to adult peer pressure while trying to fit in.
Let's think about this: By age 40, everyone has been through some stuff. Kids may have been born prematurely; physical or mental illness may dictate your waking hours; parents may no longer be alive; marriages may be on the rocks, or over. Life's hard realities spare no one.
So, instead of just telling kids to "be kind," let's go back to demonstrating this quality. And, while we're at it, how about we throw in some empathy, for good measure?
Here are some ideas to get us all started:
1. The next time that perky mom screams extra loud at the soccer game, resist the urge to exchange snarky looks with the other soccer moms. Instead, remind yourself that this may be the highlight of her day. Maybe her child struggles at school, but is a great athlete. She is enthusiastically celebrating his or her success.
2. When you see a mom standing alone at school pickup, step away from your group of friends and ask her how her day was. Maybe she is new to the area, or maybe she has felt shunned in the past and is now hesitant to talk to others.
3. As you scroll through Facebook, don't fixate on the couple who brags about their perfect children and fabulous marriage. In reality, these parents may lay awake at night obsessing over about how their kids act. As for their fabulous marriage, it could be anything but. Or, maybe each of their first marriages left them feeling low, and they just want to celebrate their newfound happiness.
4. When you are bombarded with messages about a fellow parent's new skincare or exercise direct sales business, don't rush to judgement. Consider the possibility this career decision was made of financial necessity, and that contrary to her "Rah! Rah!" attitude, she is not happy about it at all.
5. When you encounter an overprotective "helicopter" mom, just let her do her thing. Maybe her child has been seriously injured in the past or overcame a childhood illness. She could be trying to gain back the control that was robbed from her while her child was ailing.
Of course, it is possible that the loud soccer mom just wants to draw attention to her child, the shy mom at pickup thinks you're not worth her time, the chatty Facebook couple is simply bragging, the direct sales lady just wants you to see how much weight she has lost, and the overly protective mom is just paranoid.
That being said, let's give these people the benefit of the doubt. Isn't that the lesson we taught our kindergartners?
It's time to remember that kindness is more than just a word; it's a behavior that that must be demonstrated at all ages. A simple act of kindness never goes unnoticed.
Lisa Stickler is a freelance writer and mother of two young children. She previously practiced as a civil litigation attorney in Chicago, Illinois, and has worked in the marketing field. Lisa, a Michigan native, and her family now reside in Florida.