Tuesday, July 13, 2010


One of the simple surprises of everyday parenting is the opportunity to teach amazing lessons at the most unexpected moments. A seemingly random act or situation can prove to be great fodder to expressing important values about life, health, and kindness to your children. And kids take up these lessons quickly and earnestly - they seem to "get it" on an intuitive level and replicate them in short order.

The other evening provided just such a perfect opportunity. After a trip to the chiropractor, we stopped for a quick dinner out before heading home. Halfway through our meal, the waitress wandered over to inform us that someone had just paid our bill, anonymously. We were pleasantly surprised and delighted, of course (and thankful to whoever was responsible!). My 9 year old was enchanted by the kindness and the mystery. In turn, we promptly paid our young waitress a hefty tip and embarked on a long discussion of paying it forward and karma on the ride home.

Returning a kind favor made perfect sense to my son, without question. He recalled the time he gave up his ice cream money at school to another student who had forgotten hers and immediately linked the concepts. He smiled at the recollection. Children are empowered by giving and treating others with kindness, as Anna Unkovich, Education Director of the Pay It Forward Foundation notes. Giving can raise a child's self-esteem as well as her self-awareness. Volunteering, or giving of one's time, is beneficial for children and adults by enhancing self-identity and giving a sense of meaningful action, according to Cornell University researchers.

Teaching children kindness is an important aspect of parenting. Researchers at UC Davis have argued that altruistic behavior is more learned and culturally derived than genetically programmed. Humane educator and author Zoe Weil says:

"As parents, I believe we have a responsibility to raise conscious and conscientious children who have the knowledge, will and capacity to address grave problems such as climate change, escalating worldwide slavery, alarming rates of species extinction, terrorism, an energy crisis, and more. If we fail to embrace this responsibility, I believe we fail our children because they will inherit a world worse off than that of our own generation."

We can teach our children about kindness, about giving, and about good karma by modeling it - by being living examples of how to live gently, sustainably, and consciously in this world and by building a supportive community that exemplifies these values. Zoe Weil's MOGO Questionnaire (Most Good) is a great tool for identifying the values and perspectives you wish to model for your children and to teach. Passing on kindness is contagious and even young children can understand it. Grasp those everyday opportunities and know that you can help lay a very powerful foundation for your children.

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