Empowering Children: Nurturing Genuine Kindness Over People Pleasing

Childcare Insights: Nurturing Kindness With Compassion And Boundaries

Throughout life, kindness has always been one of my core values: as a parent and teacher, I’ve always emphasised how important it is to be kind to others. In addition, as time has passed by, I have come to realise how important it is to harness compassion and discernment alongside kindness because, without these additional attributes, we can run the risk of becoming someone who struggles to set boundaries and who falls into the category of ‘people-pleasing’.  

Kindness is an external process, centred around how we make other people feel. A smile to a stranger, offering to help someone or giving compliments are all examples of little acts of kindness that are done to make someone else feel good. However, compassion takes kindness a step further because it is an internal process that allows us to gain understanding of a person or situation – and this understanding then acts as the motivator behind the kindness, help or support we extend. Compassion is more of a personal and inward journey that connects people through shared experiences – and the kindness it generates comes from a deeper and more meaningful place. 

Both kindness and compassion are beautiful attributes to have. However, over the years, it has become apparent that these two things can get out of balance if we don’t pair them with discernment, which is the ability to see things clearly and make smart decisions based on what is in front of us. The ability to embody these three things simultaneously allows us to empathise with others, and extend kindness, when necessary, but to also set boundaries and be true to ourselves in a strong yet balanced way.

Nurturing Authenticity In Children: Differentiating Kindness From People-Pleasing

There is a very fine line between kindness and people-pleasing and what we teach children about kindness can be the difference between the two. People’s pleasing stems from a place of fear and/or a need for acceptance, whereas genuine kindness stems from a place of altruism and love. If we constantly enforce that children need to be kind no matter what, they learn that the approval of others is linked to this attribute, which could lead to them using this as acceptance. However, if we teach children to be true to how they feel but to approach things with compassion and understanding, they will learn to be authentic, set boundaries and extend kindness to people for the right reasons. 

Empowering Children With Compassionate Communication

The phrase ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ is powerful and teaches children to pick and use their words wisely. This approach can be linked to compassion and regardless of our circumstances or the actions of others, I believe it is one we should all live by. I have also always asked myself three things before I speak:

  • Is it true? 
  • Is it necessary? 
  • Is it kind?

Just because I question whether it’s a good idea to teach children to extend kindness to people no matter what, this does not mean that I believe we should allow them to be unkind. There is a difference between extending kindness and stopping ourselves from being unkind. Even when we disagree with people, or we are unhappy with their actions, we are still in control of our response, and no matter what someone does, it is no excuse to be unkind ourselves. However, teaching children to actively extend kindness to someone who has upset or wronged them can lead to inner conflict, often a symptom of people-pleasing. Rather than asking children to always be kind to people at times when they feel triggered or upset, there are things we can do that are more conducive to a balanced and authentic response: 

  • Ask them to focus on staying calm and making sure their reaction isn’t unkind rather than encouraging them to be actively and inauthentically kind to the other person 
  • Promote positive self-talk 
  • Acknowledge and validate the feelings and emotions they are experiencing 
  • Actively listen and hear what is being said when they are trying to tell you how they feel or what happened 
  • Avoid rewarding children for being compliant  
  • Don’t make them feel bad for getting upset or angry 

Balancing Compassion With Discernment In Parenting

Although kindness will always be one of my core values and I will always encourage my children to be kind and to have a loving and compassionate heart, I have realised the importance of teaching them how to be discerning and authentic. In our house, I insist that our actions are not unkind regardless of the circumstances or situation. However, we allow each other the space to explore and process our feelings and emotions so that when we do extend kindness, it is done authentically and not rooted in a need to gain acceptance, validation, or approval from others.

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