“Don’t become preoccupied with your child’s academic ability, but instead teach them to sit with those sitting alone.Teach them to be kind. Teach them to offer help. Teach them to be a friend to the lonely. Teach them to encourage others. Teach them to think about other people. Teach them to share. Teach them to look for the good. This is how they will change the world.”
A few years ago I started my favorite Valentine’s Day tradition as a teacher: asking each 3, 4, and 5 year old in my class what it means when you love someone. I expected a lot of repetitive answers about buying presents, giving hugs and kisses, maybe giving someone iPad time. What I got instead, to my surprise, was a multitude of insightful responses that proved what I already suspected to be true: in their uncomplicated perception of life, children teach us so much more than we can ever teach them.
“When you love someone you be respectful to them, give them hugs, kisses, and snacks.” - Perri, age 4
“When you love someone you kiss them and get married, and walk to Catch Air together.” - Avery, age 4
“When you love someone you give them flowers, take them dancing with you, and buy them a house.” - Reno, age 5
“When you love someone you wash dishes, help with dinner, fix the car, treat them nice, and snuggle with them.” - George, age 5
“When you love someone you talk nicely to them and say “I want to be your friend.” - Davis, age 5
This project made a few things clear to me. We can tell our children in words what it means to be considerate and kind until we are blue in the face, but the way they actually learn and internalize it is by watching us.
Second: almost none of the children I asked responded that when you love someone you buy them gifts or give them ice cream. As adults, we tend to over complicate things. Children don’t feel love through being given trivial, material items. They know that love is careful communication and spending time with someone.
As parents and teachers we needn’t try so hard to be perfect. Children feel love through our actions, our effort, and our consistent presence. We don’t need to teach them to be prodigies; to be the next Bill Gates or Lance Armstrong in order to be successful and make a difference. We just need to keep showing up and showing them with our behavior what it looks like when you love someone. We need to show them what it looks like to be compassionate and thoughtful. This is how they will change the world.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” L.R. Knost