On Kindness

I work part-time at Sesame Workshop, whose mission it is to help children grow “smarter, stronger, kinder.” These days, nothing seems more important than sending some kindness karma into the world.

If you ask most parents what trait they’d most like to nurture in their children, the majority would probably put “kindness” at or near the top of the list. And they’d truly mean it.

But if you asked most kids what they thought made their parents proudest, well, kindness might not even make the list. Funny thing, this gap. Or maybe not. We take kindness for granted. We openly admire people in society for their financial success, for their superior intellect or athletic prowess, for their fame or power. But when did your child last hear you say, “Look at that person over there. I’d like you to grow up just like him/her. She/he is really nice.”

In social media, it’s usually the snarkiest comments that get the most attention. On network news, the most horrific events get the most oxygen. Think about the positive reinforcement you give your child for mastering a new skill, tying a shoe for the first time, getting a good grade, or hitting a home run. Now I’m not suggesting praising kids over and over again for being kind; kindness should be the expected standard. But I do think that, at least occasionally, being kind should get them an equal amount of positive attention as, say, learning to skip.

As parents, we are our kids’ best role models. I fall down, just like anyone else. But I keep trying. Let’s all put some effort into modeling kindness, civility, and mutual respect—and noticing aloud when it’s practiced by others. Kindness is surprisingly addictive, and best of all, it feels as wonderful to the giver as to the recipient.

May 2017