How to use summer downtime for meaningful life lessons in kindness
My daughters best friend told her that she wants to take kindness lesson from her. And for me, this moment was the epitome of cool. Of epic. Of a mom win. See, I don’t have a lot of claims to fame, things to write home about, or things about me that make me a major big deal, but I can say that I am the mom that gets hugged by at least 5-7 kids at every school pick up. I am the mom that other kids call mom.
And that is more important to me than I could ever express. Being a person kids love and trust. Being a person who is there for them. And being a person who can help them through hard times with kindness, compassion, wisdom, and empathy.
Empathy and the Inner Child
And I know it is because in so many ways, due to so many things in my life, I am in touch with my inner child often and a lot. No, that doesn’t mean I act childish. It means I can feel and really deeply understand what kids are going through and what they are feeling inside. It means my empathy is at a high level at all times and kids can sense that I will listen, care, and that I will speak to them in a way that nurtures and nourishes their spirits.
I read long ago that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. And I see so many parents talking to their kids in ways that are going to give that child a lot to struggle with as an adult. Shame is a big one. Shame is deep identification with being bad, being wrong, being unlovable. And another one I hear a lot of is a general transmission of feelings of being unimportant, less important, not as important as (xyz).
So, in this, as I write this blog post about helping kids learn and embrace empathy, know that kids already naturally have it. It’s stuff they see us adults doing, hear us adults saying, that takes their natural gifts for empathy and kindness and squishes them into bits. So, while I have all of these tips and ideas, well, they aren’t just for kids. Adults have to work on squishing what was suppressed or hidden away inside of us as children. We need an empathy boost as well.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to feel what others feel and to see the world through their eyes. Not just to sympathize with them when they are sad or hurt. But to actually take on what is going on inside of other people with the whole goal, the purpose, of then being able to act in ways that reduce the pain of others, that ensure we no longer support or excuse things that cause harm to others, and to learn to actively listen instead of hurriedly talk when it comes to relationships with other people.
Empathy is about slowing down and looking around. It is about connection and reflection. And it is the only way for humanity to grow in positive ways that will make this world a better place. So, let’s get into what we can do this summer with our little ones that will help them strengthen and embrace - and protect - their natural tendencies of being kind, empathetic, generous, and caring people.
Ideas for a Summer of Empathy
Sign up to volunteer with a local organization that allows parents and kids to work together. There are a lot of options and a lot of ways to give back to the community, help people in need, and make a difference in the world. If you cannot find a specific organization I am sure you could start with your place of worship, a local Girl Scout/Boy Scout troop, or see if your child’s school has any needs over the summer that you might be able to help out with.
2). Read Powerful Books
Summer reading is my absolute favorite. As a nerd and a reading/writing tutor, I could make reading lists and discussion questions all day. Reading is a great way to increase empathy, especially for those who have different life experiences than we do.
If your kid is a boy, have him read a book with a strong female lead. If you have a daughter, though I am sure, as is the statistical case, she has already read plenty of books with strong male leads, - perhaps look for a book about some of the more unspoken things about being a boy, some of the struggles our sons and men have with toxic masculinity culture. If you are white, please enjoy and encourage reading about kids of color.
When we read we are engaging in empathy, in our heads, living the lives of the characters and existing in their worlds. It might be a bold statement, but reading might be one key way to ensure we gather the tools we need to create a society that harms less and heals more.
3). Embrace Quiet Unstructured Time In Nature
Quiet. Unstructured. These things are the key. For many, this mirrors meditation and can produce similar effects when it comes to feeling calm, reducing anxiety, and focusing on the simple acts of being mindful and just breathing.
4). Select Diverse and Compassionate Movies
Lastly in this short list, when we have family movie nights, let’s use them to expand our children’s worlds in ways that add to their understanding of diversity, compassion, social justice and equality, and that give them role models in empathy and kindness. Movies like Inside Out are praised for teaching kids about feelings, their inner voice, and growing up. Other ideas include watching some of The Kindness Diaries with your kids, - a major win in my book for how it illustrates kindness around the globe.
When we watched it as a family (ages 53, 39, and 10) we had a lot of discussions about kindness, compassion, and about what might make people act in kind ways, or decided to not be all that kind. It was a great family talk!
Conclusion: We must Role Model Empathy and Kindness
These are just a few ideas, a few resources. The best thing we can do with and for our children is to be aware of how we speak and act around them, what we allow and excuse in ourselves and in others, and to strive every moment to embrace our own higher selves, choose empathy, choose kindness, and talk about how we feel when we are happy, hurt, sad, or afraid. We embody everything to our children, let’s embrace this challenge and responsibility with compassion and mindful awareness at all times.
Jenny Justice is a local mom, Sociology instructor, reading/writing tutor, and writer. You can follow her on Medium or Facebook for more insightful articles, essays on empathy and introversion, and all other things nerdy, kind, spiritual, and informative when it comes to parenting, kids, culture, and social justice.