We hope this finds everyone feeling re-energized and re-charged from our high holiday season. With the annual transition from summer time to a new school year, I always feel extra grateful for the timing of our New Year which provides us the space to slow down…and reflect. During this season of renewal, I found myself immersed in one specific chapter of a book that our long-time leadership team member, Dana Eisenman, brought to the attention of our team recently. This chapter, “Empathetic Children Practice Kindness,” from Dr. Michele Borba’s UnSelfie resonates with me because of its pragmatic and highly applicable takeaways.
Citing the latest social science research, Dr. Borba writes convincingly about starting a “kindness revolution.” How do we ignite such a cultural movement? With our explicit guidance, support, and modeling, kids can lead the way by practicing “simple, regular kind acts” that nurture “empathy, alters behavior, changes a culture, and transforms lives.” Further, being kind “helps children tune in to other people’s feelings and needs, trust more, [and] step out of their own skins to understand others.” There was a time when practicing kindness was seen as good and fine, but it was just an extra warm and fuzzy bonus. True success in life did not demand being kind. Now scientific research demonstrates unequivocally that practicing kindness has the direct impact of “boosting health, reducing anxiety, enhancing self-esteem, increasing gratitude, and even elevating happiness.” Moreover, the more kids practice choosing kindness, intrinsically and without expecting an award or reward, “the likelier they’ll develop the skills to succeed in work and in life.” I’m in!
At Blue Star we choose kindness, not only in our summer themes, but more importantly in our intentional educational programming. Two examples are our weekly “Mensche on the bench” presentation and our daily cabin “Circle ups.” The former has become ingrained in our community culture with campers of all ages super mindful of being honored with this positive public recognition. Rather than a more traditional award ceremony that invariably focuses on some other type of achievement, whether academic or artistic or athletic, we focus on acknowledging outstanding character with a focus on kindness. In addition, the Circle up is more of a regular and routine “family meeting” with the explicit purpose of modeling how to safely and authentically share feelings with a peer group. We support our campers in opening their hearts and speaking their truth, while we also support them in mindfully listening with open hearts to their cabin mates.
As parents, we invite you to join us in kick starting an authentic kindness revolution! Here are two ideas you may find useful (I have for sure)…
“Pretend it’s twenty-five years from now and you’re at a family reunion eavesdropping on your now-grown kids discussing their childhoods. How are they describing your typical behavior? And what do they remember as ‘the most important messages’ you told them as kids?” This framing set of questions is what Dr. Borba refers to as her Family Reunion Test.
We know that our kids are always watching us and copying our behaviors. Our kids will imitate our kind (or our not-so-nice) behaviors. You model what is important. With that, after every school day around the dinner table, consider asking questions such as: “What did you do that you feel good about? What’s something nice that someone did for you? What’s something kind you did?” By adding or maybe even replacing these questions to the more usual (my old favorite), “What did you learn today?” we shift our emphasis of what truly matters to us.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop