In 2015, I gave birth to twin girls. They are polar opposites when it comes to how they are in the world. They are both wonderful, caring, self-aware little girls who are almost six. Without a doubt, one’s personality is just like mine, and her sister’s personality is just like my wife’s. A is the “it’s my way or the highway” type, and L is the child on the playground who will play with everyone, who will compromise, and who will stop playing the game when someone gets hurt. She will be the one to get them a bandaid and walk with them to the school nurse. She is the kindest person. I admire our daughters for so many reasons, and being their mom gives me the opportunity to provide them with the tools to be kind-hearted little people who also use their words to be both honest and caring.
My wife is a take-no-shit kind of woman — something I never was but have learned how to be better at over the years. I learn from how my wife engages with the world, how she says what she needs to say when she needs to say it to whomever needs to hear it. That’s her. That’s always been her. For me, I need to put in a little more work to get to that place where I feel comfortable saying “What you did to me was not okay,” or “No, that isn’t going to work for me — let’s figure something else out.” The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the years was the power of saying no, and this is something I am most definitely teaching my daughters — that “no” is a complete sentence.
Yet even with this lesson they’ve learned, the ability to say no, their delivery of the word is vastly different. L will say, “Well, that’s a good idea, but let’s try something else,” whereas her sister, A, will simply say “no” — then drop the mic and walk away, leaving you (me, her friends, teachers) left to wonder about an alternative. And both are okay. Just because one says “no” and that’s her final answer and the other leaves the door open for negotiations, doesn’t make either less kind. Just like us. We need both in the world. And we need to learn from one another that the mic drop is just as valid and important as the more open-ended answer.
We can read parenting article after parenting article about how to help our kids be more kind. But however you choose to learn more and put more tools into your parenting toolbox, remember to meet your kid wherever they are on the kindness spectrum. Being kind isn’t synonymous with inconveniencing yourself for the sake of others. Yes, delivery matters. Our actions matter. And how we treat others (as well as ourselves) matters. But there’s room for both: the “take no shit” kind of kind person, and the “rainbows and flowers” kind person.
According to the American Psychological Association, kids want to care and be kind. The APA reports, “Researchers used to believe that a sense of real caring about others only came as people grow into adulthood. But now studies are finding that children can show signs of empathy and concern from a very early age. They react with concern when they see unhappiness, wanting to help or fix the problem.”
There is the kid who is kind through and through, sometimes to their own detriment (that’s my L), and then there is the kid who is kind and has the ability to stand up for themselves. We need our kids to show up for others, while creating their own healthy boundaries. And we start by teaching them that both are possible at the same time.