Teaching kindness

12 Jul

Above All Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times – Zoe Weil

Jenna already demonstrates a kind and compassionate heart, and one of my greatest wishes as a parent is to nurture this attribute so that she grows to be a compassionate, kind and considerate adult.  I want to steer her away from apathy, jealousy and materialism and teach her to make life choices that respect the world, environment and animals as well as other people. 

“Above All Be Kind” is my current favorite parenting book.  Zoe Weil is a mother, as well as cofounder and President of the International Institute for Humane Education.  She writes with experience and wisdom and the book is well organized and easy to read.  She outlines how to use what she refers to as the Four Elements of humane education:

  • Providing Information
  • Teaching critical thinking
  • Instilling the three Rs (Reverence, Respect and Responsibility)
  • Offering positive choices

I love the way she discusses how parents can become better role models by seriously assessing their own lives, and the choices they’re making every day.  Her words led me to do some serious (and I hope helpful) introspection.  The book includes chapters for early, middle, teen and young adult years with examples and insights from her own experiences.

If I had to chose a favorite tip from the book, it would probably be her advice to start a “Wonder Walk” with your child around age 3 or 4 in order to teach reverence for the environment and other living things.  Here’s how it works:  Take your child to a quiet backyard, park, woodland or meadow.  Explain to them that they need to keep their eyes closed most of the time, that the entire time they need to be silent, and that you will hold their hand and carefully guide them. Teach them the “codes” you will use for instructions since there’s no talking: when you tap their eyes, they should open them; when you touch their nose they should smell deeply; when you put their hands on something or something in their hands, they should touch and feel; when you tap their earlobe they should listen carefully; and when you touch their lips, they should taste.  She discusses her own experiences with this and they sound magical.  I can’t wait until Jenna’s old enough to start.  Right now, we sometimes do a modified version of this.  She doesn’t understand being quiet all the time yet, but we have fun exploring the world outside with different senses.  I simply guide her to do things like looking closely (we take a magnifying glass), smelling deeply, listening carefully, and touching.  We don’t do a lot of tasting, and the author recommends being careful with this one as well – make sure you know that what you’re putting into mouths is safe and not poisonous. 

She suggests that after the child has done this several times with you as the guide and understands the process, you should shift roles and let the child become the guide.  I’m especially looking forward to this part with Jenna, because I think it will let me experience the things that she thinks are wonderful a little more fully.  I think the exercise is also a great way to bond and build trust.This is just one example of the fabulous ideas included in the book. 

One of the benefits of striving to teach Jenna to be a compassionate and kind person, is that I am becoming a better person in the process.  I think more fully about my own choices and actions.  I want the world to be a better place for her to grow up, so I do my best to make it so.  I know that she’s watching me and learning, so I choose my responses and behaviors more carefully.  No, I’m not perfect, and I know she won’t be either, but we can do our best and enjoy the journey toward better-ness together.

Be the change you want to see in the world. – Gandhi

1 Comment

Posted by on July 12, 2008 in Book Reviews, Parenting tips


One response to “Teaching kindness

  1. planningqueen

    July 15, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Sounds like a book that I would like to read. I will check to see if our local library stocks it.


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