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face in mirror(A re-post by popular request) We’ve been considering how to help our kids come out on the “high side” after they experience a difficulty in life (being bullied, not making the basketball team, not getting into the college they’d hoped, etc.). Dr. Martin Seligman from U Penn has identified the opposite of post-traumatic stress as being “post-traumatic growth” when someone goes through a hard time and emerges more than they were to begin with. They learn they are good leaders or have great patience or that they have great humor or compassion. Of course, we’d  like that for our kids…and for ourselves. Seligman goes on to say that five traits are associated with post-traumatic growth: a sense of hope, gratitude, bravery, kindness and religious belief. (see previous blogs for other topics)

As we consider kindness, it’s helpful to begin with a bit of brain research. Human beings have a keen ability to learn behavior through what are called, “mirror neurons.” This marvelous capability allows children to watch behavior and mimic it. Researchers believe that children learn to be kind and empathetic in such a way, sort of a “do unto others as it’s been done unto you.” So, a first core concept for parents is that we MODEL KINDNESS; understand that for kids to be kind, they need to have been treated kindly.

It’s also helpful for us to think of kindness, empathy and tolerance as first cousins, all related by feeling FOR others. We can TEACH KINDNESS and empathy, or at least the framework laid, by engaging the questions with your teen, “What might that other person be thinking, feeling, wanting?” It’s best to use this question in a not-hot situation, that is, NOT when your teen is angry with a friend or disappointed in a grade. Begin with a situation when someone else is feeling something strongly: little sister who’s left behind by her friends on Friday night, crying. “Gosh,” you might say quietly to her teen brother, “I wonder what Suzy might be thinking, feeling, wanting? Do you have any ideas about what might help her feel better?”

This works nicely with another tip: NOTICE KINDNESS, call it to the attention of your kids. “You were really kind to wait for her so she could  get ready to go with you. You’re such a thoughtful guy.” Help them name kindness and appreciate it in themselves and others.

PRACTICE KINDNESS as a family*. One family I know, let’s call them The Smiths, selected a family they knew who had younger children. At Christmas, The Smith kids challenged each other to come up with small gifts they could leave on the doorstep of the other family’s home, gifts from “Snowflake” and “Holly,” imaginary elves. They further challenged themselves to devise the gifts for less than $5! Though both sets of kids are now young adults, The Smiths have never divulged their Christmas identities, preferring the pleasure of a shared family secret!

Finally, TEACH KINDNESS as self care. When I was a teen suffering from some anguish or another, my mother (unsympathetically I was sure!) would insist that if I wanted to feel better, I just needed to go do something for someone else. Invariably, I went grumbling out the door. Invariably, I got distracted from my own misery and got caught up in the needs of someone else. Invariably, they appreciated my kindness and I’d come home feeling better about myself and the world! Kindness in these circumstances was certainly self-serving…but so what?

If you need a little kindness inspiration, find the book Random Acts of Kindness. Know that by teaching and practicing kindness in your home, you’re actually giving your kids a tool they’ll need when Life is unkind to them!

*For more ideas on kindness, visit http://www.thekindnessprojectblog.com/p/the-kindness-project.html