How Everyday Acts of Kindness Affect Our Children by Author Jacqueline Woodson
I live in Brooklyn on a beautiful tree-lined street in Park Slope. Bucolic in many ways and nestled between two middle schools. I guess for a writer of children’s and young adult literature, this should be ideal – I can watch the way fashion and hair styles change, watch the weight of the academic day load the students down, hear their laughter, gossip, break ups and deep conversations. I can also bare witness to their small and large unkindnesses. I think this is the hardest part of watching young children grow. I have a 10-year-old and a 4-year-old and I’m baring witness to the worlds they’re walking through… and walking into.
I don’t want the word “bullying” to become cliché. I don’t want people to no longer hear it when they hear it. And too, I think what’s happening among our children is far more complicated than this word. When I think of bullying, I think of the constant, everyday ways in which people, both young and old, endlessly persecute others. And yes, this, sadly is a part of what’s happening in too many schools. But I fear that while we’re looking for the kid getting beat up or the kid beating up, we’re missing or looking away from the everyday unkindnesses.
Once when my daughter was around 8, I heard one friend say to another “I can’t believe you wore that bathing suit.” The wearer of what I thought was quite a cute suit, immediately covered herself up and remained that way for the rest of the pool party. These small taunts, snide looks, and exclusive clusters have always gone on and continue to go on. As a child, I know there was many the time when I myself was unkind.
Still, you grow up. You learn and you teach and your goal as a parent and a human, hopefully, is to make the world a little bit better not just for your own children, but for all children. Each night, when my family sits down to dinner, we have say one thing we’ve done that was kind. “Even small things count” either my partner or I say. And the kids sometimes struggle, but they come up with something. (They have to!)
For me, this month is about kindness, the small and grand ways in which we incorporate it into our everyday living. My hope is that my children will speak up when someone is being treated badly or treating someone badly. My hope is that someone will speak up when my children mistreat someone. I know none of us is perfect, but kindness seems to be an easy enough beginning…
Jacqueline Woodson is an author of books for children and young adults. Her latest children’s book “Each Kindness” is about a young girl Chloe and her friends who won’t play with the new girl at school, Maya. When Chloe’s teacher shares a lesson about how small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship with Maya, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she had shown more kindness toward Maya.
Woodson is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the recipient of three Newbery Honor Awards, and a two-time finalist for the National Book Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn. Learn more about the author at jacquelinewoodson.com or follow her on Twitter @jackiewoodson.