This Friday I’m speaking to a group of fifth graders about kindness. I guess our family has witnessed enough kindness to make us a bit of an authority on the subject.
I’ve been sitting down trying to figure out how to approach the topic in an age appropriate way. I don’t want to scare the kids, and I definitely don’t want to bore them. Fifth graders can be a tough audience.
I can list some of the wonderful acts of kindness that have been showered on our family — the meals, the gifts, the long hugs, the kind words in the form of letters and texts and emails. BUT I also think I need to share a bit about how to be kind.
There might be a few exceptions, but most people are born kind. Bad behavior directed towards others is either taught or a product of circumstance. Parents need to be careful about what they teach their children. Like all bigotry, ranking people in importance by their abilities is a reflection of that person’s own insecurities. If you need to put someone down just to feel strong, shame on you. Teaching hatred to your children – that’s called bad parenting.
I’m assuming that the crew I’m talking to on Friday comes from good parents that would never intentionally teach hatred. I think I need to focus more on the fact that perhaps these kids haven’t been taught about how to treat people with disabilities. Often mean behavior towards people with disabilities is simply ignorance and/or fear. People don’t know what to do, what to say or where to look.
Here are some simple ideas:
* Stop thinking of people with disabilities as “disabled people”. They are people first. Whatever disabilities they might have are simply a small part of who they are. Look passed their wheelchairs or braces or quirky behavior and approach them as people. Say “hi”. Smile.
* You don’t need to pretend. If someone has trouble walking — open the door for them or ask if you can help. If someone can’t speak — see if you can get them to give you a high five. If someone is in a wheelchair – you can comment on their cool equipment. I can’t speak for all special families, but we would much rather have people approach us with smiles and questions, than to pretend we’re invisible.
* Treat people the way you would like to be treated – always a good idea.
* Be kind/good-natured/caring/loving/warm/sympathetic/hospitable/friendly. It’s good for you. It’s good for the other person and IT’S CONTAGIOUS!
I think I may start with the Harry Story. Harry taught me a great deal about being kind. I’m also going to introduce the kids to JackO – he is the master at teaching kindness.