Add value to your child’s life by making kindness routine
High on the totem poll for any mom for her child, second to being healthy and safe, is for her child to be happy and feel good about herself. Add the additional challenges your child faces—with either an absent father or a shared custody situation—you have likely developed a keen eye and sense for when your child is experiencing anxiety, sadness, or lack of self worth. You’re understandably on high alert and respond as quickly as you can to counteract your child’s negative emotions. You may feel your child is at a disadvantage because of your solo situation and therefore make it your mission to ease his emotional pain whenever and wherever you can.
This is all well and good when this young piece of your heart, walking around outside you, is in your presence and you have the ability to reassure her or step in to help her feel better. But what do you do when your child is in a situation in which he could benefit from feeling less stress, more happiness, and increased self-confidence?
What if there were a way to build his confidence, make him more resilient in the face of negativity, experience more happiness when you aren’t around, and—wait for it—reduce the frequency and severity of dramatic outbursts when he is with you? You know the kind I’m talking about: when she can’t find one Barbie shoe or he has to take his plate all the way from the kitchen table to the sink, as if it weighs as much as a sack of potatoes, or—God forbid—you have to work when she needs something. In their minds, in that moment, the world is coming to an end. It’s just all too much to bear.
So what is the magic answer that gives your child more confidence, less anxiety, more happiness, and reduces the drama he creates inside his head? A regular practice of kindness.
Will suggesting your child go do something nice for someone else in that heated moment of the apocalypse instantly calm her down? Your chances of a gift certificate for a 90-minute massage floating down from the sky are probably better, but stay with me.
We’re not talking about kindness as a response to a “dramatic” situation. We’re talking about kindness as a regular life practice . . . the benefits of which you reap both short and long term.
Inside those inquisitive young minds (and yours, too) is the world’s best pharmacy. It is capable of dispensing an unlimited supply with zero side effects, for free, a feel-good drug called serotonin. Sound familiar? This is the same manufactured drug Americans spend $12 billion a year on to alleviate depression and help themselves feel better. And we can access it on demand for free. How?
With an act of kindness.
Doing something thoughtful and kind for another person without any expectation of anything in return is the world’s best antidepressant. Even better, you dispense it for the recipient of your kindness as well. Studies have proven that the giver, receiver, and anyone who witnesses a kind act all benefit in the same way. Think about how you feel when you watch a heartwarming video of someone being kind to another person. Comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres excels at this.
A second and more long-term benefit is that your child will develop outward-focused thought patterns and spend less time wrapped up in her own head making boulders out of Kix.
In addition to the instant positive emotional benefits, a child who regularly practices kindness toward others is a more confident child. You feel good about yourself when you do good for others; it’s that simple. Imagine the redirected life path of a child who is able to build up his self-confidence versus one who isn’t. The future ripple effect in his life is immeasurable.
Initially, it may take a little extra thought and effort, but over just a little time, it simply becomes part of who you are as a person and family. Once you begin looking for them, opportunities spring up all around you.
So how about a few ideas to get you started:
- When shopping with your child in the grocery store, leave a dollar bill on top of a case of soda or in front of a bag of potato chips. You can either go on your way, excited about the mystery of who found it and how she reacted, or hang back a bit and watch.
- Bake brownies or cookies together, bring them to the local firehouse or police department, and thank everyone there for keeping you safe. You can even write a thank-you note ahead of time.
- When buying a snack or piece of candy at the checkout counter, buy a second one and give it to the clerk.
- Stand at the entrance of a mall or store for 10 minutes and have your child play doorman. Have fun with it, and really take on the role by greeting people with a huge smile and bowing as they enter. Silliness and laughter are always a good idea.
You don’t necessarily need to go out of your way, although there will be times when that will feel right. Look for the magical opportunities all around you on a moment-by-moment basis.
I like to think of practicing acts of kindness like discovering nuggets of gold. The more you do it, the more value you add to your own lives.
Keryl Pesce is an author, inspirational speaker, and happiness expert whose brand and advice have been featured in Redbook, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post, and on Glamour.com and Bloomberg.com. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @KerylPesce.
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