Kindness is a character strength that teaches children how to give without expecting anything in return. The giver has a lot more to gain than the receiver as the gain is paramount to our children’s character building.
“I will hang up my washing if you hang up yours, mommy.” My son, Xavier, was only 5 years old, and his words startled me. A couple of months later, I overheard a conversation he had with his friend in the playground. “I will help you if you let me ride your bike.”
I pulled out my mental parenting checklist to see which box I missed.
We read books about being kind and helpful to others. When we were in the supermarket, he saw me help an old lady get a trolley, and we talked about how helping others is not just for the receiver but for the giver as well.
So, what went wrong? I realized that almost every time my son does something kind for others, I reward him. When I said something like, “why don’t you go and help daddy in the garden,” he would go because he knew he would be rewarded.
There are two types of help that people offer to others. Autonomous help is freely given because we want to help. The other type of help is given when we are pressured because we feel guilty, are told to help, or we get some reward.
I knew what I needed to do to help my son see the true essence of helping others. He needed to know it was not about what we get in return but how our act of kindness can go a long way for others, especially those who are less fortunate.
In October 2017, I arranged for my son to join his two older siblings in Cambodia on their nine-month volunteer work tour in Asia. It was an eye-opening experience for Xavier. He never knew the word “orphan.”
He never knew some children had never worn shoes.
He spent 10 days helping the children in the orphanage—some were also 10 years old—by playing with them, teaching them simple English words and showing them how to put on the shoes which we had brought. At the end of the trip, he had bonded with the children, and tears were shed when they had to say goodbye. Till today, Xavier still talks about them as his friends, and their friendship meant a great deal to him.
A month after he returned, over dinner, he said, “Mom, these children gave me more than what I have given them.”
I asked him what these children gave him.
“They taught me how to give. How being kind to others should not be a chore, and I should not expect anything in return.”
In the subsequent three years, Xavier had helped the charity organization, OneSky, to raise funds for girls in China who were abandoned by their parents and participated in their annual charity 10k run.
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