Mama Madison: The kindness question

Reinforcing thoughtfulness in our children

I'm guessing many of you read last week's hugely popular Momastery post which relayed the inspiring tale of a middle school math teacher who, every Friday, asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down who'd they like to sit with the following week in class. Her intention, though, is not to appease the "I want to sit with my best friend" masses. Instead, she uses the ritual as an ingenious way to find out which students in her class are falling through the "social" cracks.

The teacher is brilliant. And I love how the post's author Glennon Doyle Melton thanks those at the helm of classrooms with these words, "TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we've got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one is watching -- it's our best hope."

But I don't fully agree. Of course teachers are an incredibly important part of solving the social isolation epidemic among our youth. But they are not the "ONLY" hope we have.

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Buchko, mom to fifth-grader Julia, who is on the autism spectrum, wrote the following newsletter piece (reprinted, with permission, below) as a reminder to all parents that it's not just the schools and teachers who can help create a kinder, more welcoming environment for all kids. Mothers, fathers and other caregivers, she beautifully urges, need to take responsibility, too. She reminded me that I have an obligation to go a step further than to ask, "How did the math test go?" or "What did you have for a snack?" during my daily dinnertime debriefings.

As I have learned from Suzanne, and Julia, I need to start asking my kids, daily, the most revealing question of all.

What did you do that was kind today?

Imagine that every parent in our Franklin-Randall community asked his or her child this question at the end of the school day or at the supper table or before turning out the child's bedroom light. What did you do that was kind today?

Our schools do all they can to teach and encourage kindness and to discourage bullying. My daughter's teachers at Franklin and Randall have gone far beyond their job descriptions to instill the ideals of inclusion and open-heartedness among their students. And I have often pondered what more can parents do? How can I reinforce the character-building that she is learning at school?

What did you do that was kind today?

This morning I observed once again that the kids on the school bus went to great lengths to avoid sitting with my daughter.

My daughter is one of those kids who will always be picked on and excluded. Someone will be mean to her perhaps every day for the rest of her life, and she is not the only one. My heart hurts for her and it also hurts for all the others. I can't stop other kids from excluding, segregating and being mean. As a parent, I've felt powerless in the face of mean girls and cool boys. But I can teach my daughter about kindness. I can teach her how to create the world that will include, nourish and cherish all people. I want to build on what she is learning at school. I want her to help bring an inclusive, loving community into existence.

And so, I will begin asking her every day when we sit down to talk about her school day, "What did you do that was kind today?" I will ask her if she saw anyone who needed kindness, and I will suggest how she might be kind tomorrow. Further, I will intentionally model kind behavior and I will talk about that behavior with her.

Will you join me?

What did you do that was kind today?

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