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Be Kind to Humankind Week: How I Am Teaching My 7 Year Old Son About Kindness

Next week is Be Kind to Humankind Week. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a week of kindness.

Earlier this week, a vicious hate letter went viral. The letter was written by a “pissed off mother” and addressed to another mother  - a mother with an autistic son. The one page pink letter was filled with insults and finally ended with the suggestion that the mother either move or have her son euthanized. The letter outraged the autism community for so many reasons and many wondered what values “the pissed off mother” was teaching her own children.

I don’t believe hate and discrimination are things we are born with – their taught. Children listen to what we say and watch what we do. If they hear their parents using words like “retard” to describe someone or something stupid, they’ll believe it’s okay to say. (It’s not, by the way. And if you’re wondering why, take Ellen Seidman’s quiz). If they see their parents write a hate letter or treating others badly,  they’ll think its okay to do the same.

My 7-year old son Norrin may have autism and a severe cognitive disability, but he understands right and wrong. He understands what it is to be nice. I have accepted autism, I have let go of mainstream dreams. I don’t care what kind of job he has or how much money he makes. The only thing I care about is that Norrin grows up to be a good person.

Which is why kindness, manners, gratitude and respect are a big deal in our house. It’s something we work on every day.

  • Be Kind to Humankind Week 1 of 11
    Be Kind to Humankind Week Babble_Lisa Quinones Fontanez_Autism Mom

    Click through to see how I incorporate simple acts of kindness in our day-to-day lives. 

  • Be Kind: It’s the Rule 2 of 11
    House Rules_Lisa Quinones Fontanez_Autism

    Acts of kindness and respect are part of our house rules. Norrin knows the difference between right and wrong but like most young kids, he needs to be reminded. We keep a list of House Rules taped to the wall of Norrin's room. We refer to them often.   

  • Set the Example of Kindness 3 of 11
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    If I want Norrin to be kind to others, I need to practice what I preach. My husband and I are not exempt from the house rules. We speak to each other with respect. Don't get me wrong, like any other married couple (we've been married ten years), we argue but we use "nice words." And when Norrin hears me using words that are "not nice" he has no problem calling me out on it.   

     

    photo credit: iStock photo

  • When I’m Wrong, I Say I’m Wrong 4 of 11
    Sad girl

    I am not a perfect parent. I make my fair share of mistakes. I yell and lose my temper, just like any other mom. And sometimes I overreact. When I do, I apologize. Growing up, my mother never apologized even when she was wrong. And there were times when I wanted an apology. But we had an old-school relationship, she was the adult and I was the child. I want Norrin to understand that I am willing to admit my mistakes. Respect is a two-way street. And I want Norrin to know that I respect him enough to apologize.

     

    photo credit: iStock photo

  • Sharing is Caring 5 of 11
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    Socialization is one of Norrin's biggest challenges and he has difficulty playing with a group of children. When at the playground I encourage Norrin to socialize through sharing and taking turns. If he's been on the swing for a while and I notice another child wants a turn, I prompt Norrin to give up the swing. I want him to be considerate of his peers. 

    photo credit: iStock photo

  • Offer a Helping Hand 6 of 11
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    One of the first phrases Norrin learned to say was "I need help." Eventually it turned into a question -  "Can you help me?" I still help Norrin with many things but he's getting older and I want to teach him responsibility. So now it's my turn to ask him for help. I ask him to help me hold the groceries bags, to press the elevator button or to put clothes in the dryer. But I also prompt him to help others. Like holding the door open for the women in the building.

     

    And if we're taking public transportation, we wait until people get off the train or bus before boarding. I offer my seat to an elderly person, a pregnant woman or another child - then I tell him why. I know Norrin doesn't understand just yet but I want to show him it's the right thing to do. 

     

    photo credit: iStock photo

  • Manners Matter 7 of 11
    Please Thank You Excuse Me

    My therapists used to laugh at me, making Norrin say "please" and "thank you" when he was struggling to put three words together. But manners are important to me. And I wanted Norrin to have them. "Please" and "thank you" are now part of Norrin's everyday vocabulary. I love when he uses them when we go out to eat. It lets me know that he understands that kindness goes beyond us - it applies to strangers too. And I am so proud whenever I hear Norrin in the playground saying "excuse me" instead of "move." 

     

    My friend and Babble Blogger, Ruby wrote this great post about teaching manners to preschoolers. But it's a great refresher for kids of all ages. As our kids get older, we need to continue teaching them about manners, kindness and consideration.   

  • Kindness: It’s Not Just For Humans 8 of 11
    Boy with Autism with Dog

    Kindness doesn't only apply to humans, it applies to animals too. Norrin doesn't have many opportunities to be around animals, but when he is we show him how to pet them. We take his hand and show him how to be gentle. Being gentle with a pet is a great way to show kindness to pet owners.

    I also teach Norrin to be kind to the environment (and to humankind) by not littering in the street. If he's eating or drinking something outside, he knows to throw the wrapper or carton in a garbage can. He'll hold it and walk until he finds one.  

  • Talk About Kindness 9 of 11
    Marlon and Nemo 2

    Norrin is a visual learner and kindness is an abstract concept for him to understand. So we rely on images to reinforce his understanding of kindness. Whenever we come across kindness in a book or movie, I make it a point to talk about it. I want Norrin to know what kindness looks like. One of his favorite movies is Finding Nemo and I love it because its filled with little life lessons. There are many examples of kindness in Nemo and I always point them out to Norrin. 

     

     

     

    Photo Credit: Disney.com

  • Praise Acts of Kindness 10 of 11
    Great Job

    One of the things I learned through ABA therapy is the importance of positive reinforcement. Norrin thrives on praise and I love praising him. Whenever I see or hear Norrin exhibiting acts of kindness I let him know I am pleased. I want to give Norrin the encouragement and confidence to continue doing the right thing. 

  • Show Affection 11 of 11
    Latina Mother and Son_AutismWonderland_Lisa Quinones-Fontanez

    We are a very affectionate family. Not a day goes by without a hug, a kiss or an "I love you." Norrin isn't the kind of kid who says "I love you." He only says it if I say it first. But I know that he loves me, he doesn't need to say it. When Norrin gives me a hug or a kiss, I always say "thank you" because I want him to understand I appreciate those gestures of kindness.

 

Random acts of kindness go beyond buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you at your favorite coffee shop or throwing change in a donation box. That’s kind too, but kindness shouldn’t cost you anything. It’s in the little every day things, the things we don’t think twice about. Kindness is a smile, a word, a gesture. That’s what I’m teaching Norrin.

How do you teach your children about kindness? For more ideas on how to be kind next week, check out http://bk2hk.org.

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Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.

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