My kids joke that I only have two speeds: fast and not so fast — with fast being how I usually move through life.
Recently, I was moving through my day at my usual speed — fast. You know, the I’ve-got-to-get-things-done mode while running errands. My kids know by now that when Mom is in this mode, they better keep up. (My son even once said to me, “Mom, have you ever looked at the length of my legs? They are like, tiny compared to yours.”)
On this particular day, I was definitely not thinking about the length of my son’s legs. We were on the move; there was no time for lollygagging. Halfway down the aisle of the store, I realized he was nowhere to be found; then I heard him.
My son is loud — and not just volume loud, but enthusiasm loud. He loves life.
I followed the sound of his voice until I spotted him, holding the door open for people to enter the store. But of course, this simple gesture was not enough for him — he had to find out each person’s life story before they could pass “go.”
I watched him; totally alive with kindness.
I didn’t tell him to do this; I didn’t even create an opportunity to teach him about kindness, giving, and humanity. He just did it because he has it in his heart.
My daughter and I stood at a distance, watching him. He was in his element: sharing life with others. Then I heard what I like to call his “signature move.” It’s the way he starts those conversations that feel like they last for hours: “Did you know … “
I wanted to run over there and pull him away — rescue the poor people who were being subjected to his “did you know” conversation, but I didn’t. Just as I was moving towards him, I looked up and saw the magic that happens for my son when he is around people. An older gentleman, someone he would have called a grandpa type was listening intently to every word my son said. I watched him give this man the same attention when he spoke. This simple exchange of words and stories taking place was nothing short of perfect.
After my son and this very patient man finished their conversation, he came skipping over to me with a smile on his face that only a 6-year-old could wear. His voice was filled with happiness and his speech was quick. He couldn’t talk fast enough, telling me all that he had just learned about this “gentle man.”
But that’s when I asked what prompted him to do that — to hold the door open and engage in conversations with complete strangers. He looked at me with true sincerity and said, “You do that, Mom. I was just doing what you always do when we are at the store.”
There it is, I told myself. The one thing we work so hard to instill in our children — kindness.
Children are born to be givers of kindness, and it’s our job to continue to show them how to nurture this and make it the core of who they are. I truly believe that their desire to help is innate. As parents, we must look for these traits and encourage kids to think about other people’s feelings before they act.
Some say that we must teach kids kindness; read it to them in books, provide opportunities for them to experience it, force them to be kind to others. But I’ve started to think that kindness isn’t taught, it’s learned. What we forget is that kids are intuitively set up to have empathy for others, and that they want to help out. We need to encourage what is already there.
It makes sense, when you think about it: By engaging in small acts of kindness every day, we feel compelled to perform more widespread acts of compassion purely for the sake of seeing other people happy. The more opportunities our children have to give kindness, the more likely it is to become a part of who they are, too; not just something they do.
Holding doors open, kind words, smiles, saying “hi” to someone who looks lonely, and noticing those around us. We need to model these things for our children — they take their cues from us. It isn’t always easy; but if we’re consistently kind and compassionate in front of our kids, it is more likely that they will be, too.
As we were leaving the grocery store that day, the man my son held the door open for stopped us in the parking lot. He hunched over a bit so he could get as close to my son’s face as possible. With a very soft tone and eyes that could tell a million stories, he whispered seven words that meant the world to my son: “You are a very kind young man.”