“The body learns first and then the mind and heart come to understand.”
In her book, Parenting Without Borders, Dr. Christine Gross-Loh cites this “folk belief” as a very important part of child-rearing in Asian countries, specifically in Japan. In a society where being kind, helpful and aware of others is of the utmost importance, teaching children to ascribe to these notions can be a struggle for us in this country. So where do most of us begin?
For every society and every family, certain niceties and “politenesses” are important while others are not. In America, saying please and thank you, giving eye contact while talking and listening and certain greetings and goodbyes (handshakes, “Nice to meet you”s) are de rigeur. So these are the things that we pass on to kids. “What’s the magic word?” “Can you look at Mr. Robinson when you talk to him?” “Let’s walk our guests to the door and see them out.”
With more touchy subjects like saying sorry or keeping your negative opinions to yourself, we can falter a little bit. We want kids to want to say sorry or more rightly, to be sorry enough to apologize. We want kids to internalize that calling dinner disgusting is not showing kindness. But we’re sometimes afraid of emphasizing politeness over “authenticity.” Kids should be able to express themselves, but not at the expense of someone else’s feelings. Right?
We can start while they’re young. We don’t mind if they don’t understand what “please” means when they’re little. We still want them to say it. It’s no different with sparing others’ feelings or having kids help. They might not understand the importance of helping with small chores, but their understanding will come later. We want the habit to be in place so that it’s easier for them to eventually understand the importance. Just like we wouldn’t want to wait until they could understand why eating healthy foods was the way to go. If we waited until they understood why, their bad eating habits would already be in place. We simply set the example when they’re young.
Trusting kids with responsibility that they can handle (i.e. beginning with ‘actions’) helps them realize that everybody pitches in. We all live in the same house or community and all of us can be of help. Parents often feel overwhelmed by the things that they have to do. Delegating responsibility to kids is not a cop-out, but an opportunity for them to learn to be “better” people. Ideally, once kids are in the habit of helping others with things, they won’t need you to tell them to help. They’ll already have the muscle memory to do so on their own. Wouldn’t it be nice it helping and being kind didn’t come as a surprise to us? Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just an everyday thing? I know, I know. You think I’m dreaming. But I’ve seen kids become better versions of themselves when they have the proper habits in place- no matter whether they understand them yet or not. You can still understand a fuzzy feeling inside when you make someone else smile after you’ve done them a good turn.
We’re coming to the end and there are no bullet points, no 1, 2, 3s, and only some rough suggestions. This is just something that I’ve been thinking about lately and wondering about overall. And with this in mind, I’ll see if I can work a little more helping into my day.