Stop Telling Your Kids to Be Nice!

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Lately, I find myself wishing my kids would be more “nice”. Maybe it’s the holiday stress, maybe it’s the family personalities doing what they do best-butt heads. Or maybe it’s teenage immaturity and selfishness getting the better of me. But, if I’m going to be honest, there’s a general air of meanness that has settled into our daily routines. We bark at each other, we scowl at one another, we talk over one another. Heck, I’m pretty sure there’s even some talking about each other behind backs. It’s sad. It makes me sad, it makes me tense, it makes me want to find a remote island, with a margarita machine (of course) and settle in for some me time.

There have been mommy moments when I’ve thrown my proverbial white flag in the air and declared, “Why can’t you just BE NICE?! Just talk nice, look nice, treat others nicely? All I want is for you to BE NICE. NICE! Did you hear me?”

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And so, as often happens, I come across some words of advice at just the right slap-in-your-face moment. What I’m about to say type aren’t necessarily my own revelations, but come from a compilation of articles that all spew the same, thought-provoking ideas that have forced me to reconsider this nonsense of being nice.

Drum roll…..

Being nice is different than being kind. Know the difference, explain the difference to your kids, live the difference, and start telling your kids to be kind, not nice.

To explain, let’s first imagine a group of animals (lions? ok, let’s imagine lions) in the wild. There is always a dominant lion. If a lion is anything but the dominant lion, he or she often always behaves out of fear. A non-dominant lion will slide past the alpha male, cuddle up to the alpha male, follow the alpha male, get out of the way of the alpha male, all in a nice way, right? All other lions are submissive to the alpha. They make decisions because they are afraid. They behave “nicely”, because they get something out of it- they get safety, comfort and perhaps a sense of love in return.

0711-parents-genes-630x420That’s being nice. Nice is about pleasing others, getting approval from others, making up for personal inadequacies, being submissive to others perceived as better or more important. Nice people are powerless, looking for power. Nice people almost always get used. They do too much for others, in a constant hope of feeling better about themselves. They live in fear of rejection. They often become co-dependent, hoping above all hopes that those they’ve showered with niceness might someday return the favor, invite them in, treat them as equal. But it rarely happens. Nice people become bitter, have feelings of failure, are the losers in relationships, feel alone, time and time again. 

So what’s kindness, then? See, we aren’t wild animals. Sure, we have instincts and urges, and sometimes (many times) we behave wildly. But we have something wild animals don’t. We have humanness. It’s not easy to quantify, qualify or define. But we have the ability to reason and rationalize, and ultimately, to be kind. Kindness emerges from a person who is confident, a person who can be empathetic, a person who is comfortable with their own body and personality and life path.

To put it simply, a kind person gives to others out of love, not for anything they get in return.

Kind people don’t necessarily care if others like them, they continue to be kind because they know it’s the right thing to do. They don’t harbor resentment, they don’t grow bitter, they don’t try to measure up or get approval. Kind people have an inner power, they take pride in themselves, they add to their existing happiness by making other people happy, without wanting something in return. A kind person treats others out of a genuine need to relieve suffering. A kind person is selfless, strong and makes decisions not out of fear, jealousy or greed, but out of a genuine desire to see others grow and succeed. A kind person recognizes the struggles of others, wants to improve others and consequently acts out of this desire.

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In fact, a nice person reading this doesn’t even understand kindness.

Why? Because, for a nice person, empathy and compassion are foreign. Giving for the sake of giving is alien to them. A nice person lives in fear, a nice person is narcissistic, a nice person thinks everyone is out to get them. Nice people compete, they measure, they calculate, they want their reward.

Niceness is always measured in actions, it’s never fulfilling, it’s always a failure. For a nice person, to get out of the cycle of nice means they become opposite of nice. They become mean, ugly, nasty.

Kindness, on the other hand, is a constant inclination, a resolution to do good, a feeling that doesn’t go away. Kindness is an emotion, a will, a sense, a desire. Kindness never degenerates. In fact, it grows.

As a parent of teens, I wonder if I missed the boat on this. It might be too late to explain kindness, to teach kindness, to demonstrate kindness, to see kindness in my kids. I fell into the trap, long ago, of demanding niceness. I rewarded them when they were nice to others, I built within them a competitive spirit. I inadvertently taught them that they needed to be nice to better people in order to be better themselves.

But, as life trucks on, one thing I have discovered over and over again is that it’s never too late. It’s easier to build empathy (and thus kindness) in younger kids, yes, but it’s never too late to become a kinder person.

Parents, build empathy, show them suffering in the world, so they feel emotion. Don’t cover their eyes to despair. Take them out to do kind things without getting something in return. Volunteer without reward. Model small acts of kindness, be an example, be strong, be confident. Compliment others for their achievements, their luck, their anything, without fostering a will to compete.

Above all, stop demanding niceness.

Teach them the difference between niceness and kindness. Verbalize it and show it in action. Do it early, do it often. Use every moment as a teachable moment. Demand more from your kids. The world is selfish. It’s easy to be nice, it’s hard to be kind. Being nice produces only negative results, but being kind is self-rewarding. It’s fulfilling, it propagates, it’s contagious, it makes the world better. So stop being nice, and start BEING KIND.

Three-things-in-human-life-are-important-the-first-is-to-be-kind-the-second-is-to-be-kind-and-the-third-is-to-be-kind.-Henry-James

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