This post is sponsored by Staples
When I taught first grade, academic subjects were part of my core curriculum, but it was also important to teach my 6-year-old students character education. Lessons on compassion, kindness, empathy, positivity and what it meant to be a good friend were essential to their learning as reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. I modeled the values I hoped to instill in my students and worked with our school’s counselor on coming to teach lessons on a regular basis as did many of my elementary school colleagues. Now as a parent of two middle schoolers, I feel like these important lessons have gotten lost.
As kids grow up, do we just assume they already know what they should know and that regular instruction on these topics aren’t important?
Certainly, teachers and school administrators are always modeling the behavior they expect from their students, but as we start a new school year, this is also an anxiety producing time for many middle and high schoolers who worry about friendships, bullying, harassment, and don’t love themselves as they should. These underlying social and emotional issues can cause depression and emotional distress, leading to poor academic performance in kids of all ages and it’s up to us to continue the learning that happened at school at home.
Talking to middle schoolers can be tricky if you want more than one word answers, but fortunately lessons in kindness can come in different ways. In addition to modeling the kind of behavior you expect and making yourself available, it’s also important to highlight positive role models that tweens and teens identify with as well as kindness and emotional well-being.
4 Ways Parents Can Teach Kindness to Middle Schoolers
Seek Opportunities to Be Kind and Share Kindness
“How we treat one another impacts how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about each other, and how healthy our communities are. That’s why we believe inspiring people to be kind is the key to building a more vibrant and productive world. We understand this is no easy task and we can’t do it alone.”
This year, Staples, Lady Gaga and her Born This Way Foundation teamed up on the Staples for Students program to support education and promote positive classroom experiences nationwide. To start, Staples for Students donated $1 million apiece to Born This Way Foundation and DonorsChoose.org. This money will be used to continue Born This Way Foundation’s impactful programs championing kindness and emotional wellbeing and support teachers through DonorsChoose.org.
Started in 2000 by a public school teacher, DonorsChoose.org has been empowering public school teachers around the country by funding various classroom projects and material requests.
Many of the teacher projects on DonorsChoose.org inspire students to be kind and support emotional wellness, both of which Staples and Lady Gaga believe to be a necessity in kindness education. Here are some of the DonorsChoose.org projects teachers have created and are hoping to fund in order to teach their students about kindness:
- Johnson in West Valley City, Utah hopes to provide her middle school class and their families with books that with reinforce the theme “kindness matters.”
- B in Menlo Park, Californiaseeks to inspire her students to express their feelings through journaling.
- Bolton in Rockford, IL aims to create a classroom that supports her preschoolers’ social and emotional development through fun and interactive activities.
- Trombly in Lowell, Massachusettswants to provide her special needs students with resources to support their unique emotional needs.
A donation in any amount will help teachers fund classroom projects that teach kindness and emotional well being in the coming school year.
Model the Kind of Behavior You Expect
Just as younger kids learn from our actions, our middle schoolers look to us to provide examples of how to act in every situation whether we’re in the car, at home or out in public. For example, keeping our road rage to ourselves isn’t easy at times, but the way we act in the car towards other motorists sets an example for our drivers-to-be who are paying attention to our words and actions.
The bottom line is our kids act out what they see. If they see us acting badly towards one another, they will too and we can’t teach kindness unless we are kind toward others. But no one is perfect. It’s easy to say we will take a deep breath to channel the calm, but it can be hard to remember in the moment. It’s better to acknowledge the less-than-ideal way you handled the situation when you’re around your kids. It opens the door to a conversation about what you did wrong, what you should have done instead and shows them that you’re working toward being a kinder person at all times, just like you hope they are too.
Make Yourself Available
We think our middle schoolers are grown up and independent and for the most part, they are but there are other times when they need us, and they let us know in the most subtle ways. It can be difficult to pick up on these cues when we’re looking at our phone or preoccupied with the endless mental to-do list, so find times in your day to make yourself available to your tween or teen to check in.
You’ll probably get a single word answer when you ask them how they’re doing, but when you talk to them about something going on in their world, it could spark an unexpected conversation. Making yourself available without being too intrusive is key. Prying is not ok, but asking a question in just the right way can be the key to getting your kids talking about issues that matter to them.
In the past, I’ve used drives to sports practice to discuss upcoming games. It has led to conversations about team dynamics and individuals who aren’t being team players.
Lastly, try mentioning an article you read about someone in your community doing something kind for others and ask if it’s something they’d like to help with.
Highlight Positive Role Models
Best known for being an international singer, songwriter, and actress, Lady Gaga is more than a pop icon for today’s generation. She also uses her past experiences to make the world a better place through her Born This Way Foundation.
“The first ‘s’ is safety. The second ‘s’ is skills. We want kids to feel safe in their schools or safe in their home environments, so that they can acquire the skills to be a tolerant accepting and loving person,” she said. “And then we believe that this will lead them towards the ‘o’ which is opportunity.”
Co-founded with her mother, Cynthia Germanotta in 2012, the non-profit Born This Way Foundation is designed to be a youth empowerment organization with a broad goal of creating a kinder and braver world by combatting meanness and cruelty. The programs are designed to inspire bravery in today’s kids and parents so culture can work towards a kinder and more accepting society.
There you have it – 4 ways to teach kindness to your tween or teen! For a chance to win a $50,000 scholarship and a trip for two to an upcoming Lady Gaga concert, visit StaplesForStudents.org. While there, you can learn the official contest rules and more about Lady Gaga teaming up with Staples to help teachers and classrooms.
Looking for resources on teaching younger kids kindness? These past posts of mine can help:
- 5 Ways to Teach Compassion, Empathy, and Kindness to Our Children
- Back to School: Reinforcing Academic, Social, and Emotional Skills with Netflix
I was compensated for this post but opinions are my own and based on personal experience. Images courtesy of Staples, Inc.