Inside: How to help our kids be kind without being taken advantage of or becoming a doormat. Learning to say no and be kind to yourself is a necessary life skill.
I was on a crowded freeway the other day and tons of cars were trying to merge into my lane.
Here in Los Angeles, the etiquette is to let someone in if you can, if you want to, and if it’s safe. And really only if they waited their turn and didn’t try to avoid waiting in the same line everyone else did.
So I let someone go in front of me.
A few minutes later I let someone else go in front of me.
And that’s where I drew the line. I was late. I needed to get where I was headed and I was getting super frustrated.
And so was the guy next to me. Because as he tried to merge but really couldn’t, he flipped me off.
There’s nothing like seeing a 70-year-old man flip you and your children off.
But here’s the deal.
I’m a kind person. I know I’m a kind person. I walk the walk and I talk the talk.
I will help anyone who needs it. I try to be considerate of others around me. And it almost kills me when I unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings.
But I’m also not a pushover. If I let every car in front of me that wanted to come in, I’d get screwed over.
That would be unkind to myself, unkind to my kids stuck in the car with me, and unkind to all the people in line behind me.
That age-old adage, “Nice guys finish last” doesn’t have to ring true.
We don’t have to let people walk all over us, even if we’re kind-hearted.
So while we teach our kids to be kind, we also have to teach them where to draw the line so they don’t become pushovers, punching bags, or get taken advantage of.
Why should kids be kind in the first place?
People who are kind, truly kind, have chosen to be kind no matter what the circumstance.
On the other hand, people who are kind conditionally, when they want to be or when it serves their own purpose, aren’t actually kind. They’re nice.
And we don’t want our kids to be nice.
We want our kids to be kind.
Kindness isn’t just a lack of cruelty or lack of meanness or lack of indifference.
Kindness is actively choosing to make someone else’s day or moment easier or more enjoyable without expecting or hoping for anything in return.
Kindness can be as simple as a smile, holding the door open for someone, or offering to share the last cookie on the plate.
But here’s the deal when it comes to big acts of kindness and small, normal, everyday, acts of kindness: It is more about you and who you are than about the other person.
The actions we choose are a mirror reflection of who we are inside and showcase our core values.
So if we’ve chosen to be kind, it doesn’t matter how other people treat us.
Kindness isn’t conditional.
It’s not an “if you do this, then I’ll do that” proposition.
Or in playground talk, it’s not “I’ll be your friend if you do this…” kind of statement.
When we choose to be kind, unconditionally, we’re going to be kind. And speak with kindness. And act with kindness.
But we have to know where to draw the line.
Because we don’t want our kind, sweet little kids getting taken advantage of, or being pushed around, or being manipulated because of their kindess.
We have to know when we need to stop being kind to others and start to be kind to ourselves.
So we have to teach our kids how and where to find the line.
Why learning to be kind to ourselves is crucial for our kids’ mental health
Listen. I want my kids to be kind.
It’s so important to me and my family, we’ve made it one of our only two family rules. My husband and I model kindness, we encourage kindness, and we expect kindness.
We talk about kindness using these 60 Kindness Discussion Cards.
We’ve brought the Kindness Elves into our home who offer ideas to spread kindness.
And we challenge ourselves with this 100 Acts of Kindness Challenge.
But being kind to other people can not, and should not, come at the expense of being kind to ourselves.
Because being kind and choosing to act and speak with kindness also includes how we treat ourselves.
Our kids’ mental health and well being are of the utmost importance.
We protect our kids’ emotional health and don’t allow our kids to speak poorly of themselves. To do this, we’ve taught them the Backwards Golden Rule: only speak about yourself the way you would speak to a friend.
So why in the world would we allow or encourage them to stay in situations that cause them physical or emotional harm in the name of “being a kind person?”
Yes, we teach our kids to be kind.
But we also teach them there’s a time to be kind to yourself.
We don’t want them to be a punching bag for others.
We don’t want them to be pushovers who allow everyone to walk all over them.
So we have to teach our kids to set limits and boundaries and to know when it’s okay to walk away or say “no.”
Real life examples of being kind without being a pushover
This can be a hard concept to explain to our kids because many of us parents don’t understand the line.
But here are a few examples to illustrate how we can be kind without being taken advantage of or becoming a pushover.
1. When I’m in line to exit a very crowded parking lot, I often let people merge into my lane as we take turns to exit. That’s the kind thing to do. But I don’t allow everyone to go in front of me or I’d never leave. I might have another 70-year-old man flip me off, but so be it. I just kindly ignore him.
2. When I see trash on the ground, I pick it up and put in the trashcan. But I don’t devote the entire day to picking up trash or I’d never spend time doing what I need to do or want to do.
3. I often volunteer at my kids’ school because I know they need the help, appreciate it, and I have a flexible schedule. But when they asked me to come in every day, I said: “no, thank you.” When they asked me to chair a fundraising committee, I said: “no, thank you.” Taking on those extra tasks would be unkind to me and unkind to my family since I’d have less downtime to spend with them and connect.
4. And when someone is unkind to me, I don’t need to stay friends with them. I don’t need to retaliate or be mean back, but I definitely don’t need to stand there and take the abuse, the put-downs or the passive aggressive actions. To be kind to myself, to protect myself emotionally, I walk away from toxic relationships.
Concepts to teach our kind kids so they don’t become a pushover
1. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.
Preschool teachers around the world may disagree, but our kids don’t have to be friends with everyone. Not everyone is going to mesh or have similar interests.
With that said, our kids do need to be friendly towards everyone.
Everyone gets to play. Everyone can sit down. There is no need to exclude people on purpose.
But our kids don’t have to play with someone who is mean to them or makes unkind choices.
They can avoid the kid who bullies others.
They don’t need to reach out to the kid who makes them nervous or uncomfortable or makes them feel unsafe.
2. You can be mad without retaliating
When someone is mean to our kids, their knee jerk reaction is to be unkind and act with meanness back.
But when we take the time to teach our kids they can be mad or frustrated or have their feelings hurt without retaliating, they take the high road.
They don’t need to keep taking it. They don’t need to be a punching bag. They don’t need to get abused emotionally or physically.
But they can walk away.
They can get help from an adult.
They can say “No!” or “Stop!”
3. You can be kind and not share
Again, every preschool teacher out there may start freaking out, but hear me out.
There’s a big difference between sharing and turn taking.
Sharing is giving up what you want, usually on someone else’s terms. The teacher or parent tells you the toy you have has to be shared and so you have to hand it over, even though you got it first and had a plan to use it.
So I teach my kids they don’t have to share.
Related: Why Your Kids Don’t Have to Share
But they do have to take turns.
They have to offer up the coveted item when they’re done with it.
They need to ask if someone would like a turn.
They can’t horde all the supplies or all the toys.
But they don’t need to give up what they’re using or playing with just because someone else wants it too.
4. You can be kind and still say “no.”
Kind kids can say “no” and still be kind.
Because sometimes, it’s kinder to say “no” then it is to say “yes:”
- When they turn down a friend (or an adult) who wants them to do something they know isn’t right.
- When they see a friend doing something they know is unsafe or unkind.
- Or when they really don’t want to do what is being asked of them (this does not include chores, however).
Our kids don’t have to stop what they’re doing to play what a friend wants them to play.
Our kids don’t have to change what they want on the whim of a friend or sibling or classmate.
Our kids can choose to say “no thank you” or “maybe later” or “I’m doing this now, but I’ll play with you when I’m done.”
Because our kids do not have to do things that make them uncomfortable or unsafe or unkind.
5. You can stand up for others or yourself and still be kind.
When someone is going to get hurt or is about to get hurt, all bets are off.
Kids can and should stand up for their friends and themselves. When kids face a bully or bullying behavior, they’re choosing to be kind. They’re choosing to be the voice that says “no.”
The kind kids are the ones who announce they will not stand for people being treated poorly.
They don’t need to throw a punch. Or name call back. Or be cruel (even if the bully “deserves” it).
But they can forcefully and without holding back, stand up for what is right.
- “Stop it.”
- “You may not speak to them this way.”
- “You may not talk to them this way.”
- “No more.”
- “You have to stop it now.”
- “You can’t talk to my friend that way.”
Because stepping in and stepping up and speaking for others is one of the kindest things we can do…both for the small injustices and the large ones.
And yet other times, the kindest thing we can do is to do nothing at all.
To walk away–or drive away–from the unkind behavior.
And the gentleman raising his middle finger at me.
Want more ways your kids can deal with mean kids? Download this here.