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Is kindness making your child a victim?

Posted: February 24, 2016 3:09 a.m.
Updated: February 24, 2016 3:09 a.m.
Erin Stewart/

I realized recently that my daughter equates kindness with being a pushover. We wanted to teach her to be a kind person who could help others, not a victim who can't even help herself.

We’ve always championed kindness in our home. We role-play making new friends and reaching out to kids who need a friend. We talk about sharing and sympathy and lending a helping hand.

But my daughter recently came home and shared an experience with me that made me pause. Her friend at school was not allowing her to play with other kids at recess or sit where she wants at lunch. The girl wasn’t bullying her by any means, but was afraid she would lose my daughter as a friend if she allowed her to branch out by playing with other kids.

I asked her how she responded. My daughter said, “I just did what she said. I always do because I don't want to be mean.”

That’s when it occurred to me that my daughter equates kindness with being a pushover. Somehow along the way, all our talk about kindness created an unintended effect: She is so worried about other people’s feelings that she ignores her own.

This was not at all what we thought we were teaching her. We wanted to teach her to be a kind person who could help others, not a victim who can't even help herself.

So I took a step back and reassessed how we approach kindness.

First, we talked with her about how being kind doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you. In fact, sometimes the kindest action is to help a friend learn how to treat others better.

Then, we talked with her about standing up for herself in a kind way. We acted out how to say things like “I will always be your friend, but I’d really like to play all together today” or “I think it’s my turn to choose what we do at recess.” We also discussed how to make her feelings known without being rude, or even come to a compromise where each person takes a turn getting their way.

The final, and perhaps most important step, was to re-evaluate my own relationship with kindness. I avoid conflict at all cost and will often let people get their way just to avoid a fight. My daughter has watched me put myself last again and again in an attempt to be a people pleaser in the name of kindness.

I’m embarrassed to admit, but she has also often watched me bite my tongue in front of others, only to go home and complain about the situation or the people. She was learning from my example that kindness means letting people have their way but harboring ill feelings about it.

So, I’ve been working on my own example of kindness by asserting my emotions if they are important enough to me, and letting go of them for real if they are not. I hope my daughter can learn that kindness and assertiveness can go hand in hand, and that true kindness is deeper than words to someone’s face.

I'm happy to say that my daughter has started to find her voice. After she told her friend she wanted to play with more people at recess, she felt empowered and not one bit mean.

Kindness is still a paramount virtue in our home that we champion endlessly because kindness isn’t weakness. It is an often-overlooked virtue that I hope makes my daughter a stronger woman who not only shows genuine love to others, but also to herself.

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