Empowering our littles to be kind to themselves

This week I had the privilege of seeing Orly Wahba speak at a Kindness Assembly at a local elementary school, and then again during her evening “Kindness Boomerang” book signing event for community members.  Wahba is a passionate “kindness activist” who founded a nonprofit called Life Vest Inside that is focused on empowering and inspiring kindness around the world.  Her key message is that we all can and should feel empowered to make a positive difference in the world.  She says that our small acts of kindness, especially the random organic ones can have a powerful ripple effect on the world because kindness is contagious.  With each act of kindness we do, we can energize and inspire others to do the same thing.  While Wahba is a kindness activist, she says her organization is about empowerment. It starts with kindness to ourselves.  We must all realize that we have a life vest inside of us to help ourselves and believe we can do good and reach our highest potential.  Once we do, then we can touch others with kindness to find their own life vests.  And if each of us believe we have a role in this world to do good things- no matter how small- then only good things will come and positivity will spread.

I love Wahba’s message of empowerment, and the message of believing in yourself to be a positive force of change. I do think it starts with kindness to yourself- with self-compassion.  Without that foundation it will be difficult to find compassion for others.  Establishing this foundation from an early age in littles is critical.  Young children come with no judgments about themselves, no insecurities.  Yet as they face life, the social pressures, the criticisms, many lose or never develop the ability to believe in themselves.

One of the harshest realities that many young kids face is judgments from their own peers.  I faced this harshness myself as a young girl and was bullied both verbally and physically.  Many of those experiences were more traumatic than I realized at the time, and for years I internalized those experiences and became insecure.  We won’t be able to protect our littles from these unfortunate realities of life but we can provide ways to channel the negative energy and develop a foundation for resiliency.

One practice that I particularly like and use with my girls to advocate for self-kindness is an exercise called “Trash Can for Hurting Words.”  I learned the practice during KidPower workshops, which I’ve written about in a past blog post.  KidPower provides practical tools and role-playing exercises “to teach people of all ages and abilities how to use their power to stay safe, act wisely, and believe in themselves.”  In the trash can role-playing exercise, you pretend to say mean words to your child such as “slow-poke” or “weirdo,” which you mutually agree upon at the start of the exercise.  Your child then grabs those mean words in the air and motions to throw them away in a garbage can.  He or she then places their hand over their heart and repeats an affirmation to say the opposite of the hurtful phrase such as “I am not slow” or “I like myself.”  The idea is that even though mean things happen, you don’t need to hold on to them.  These things can only be hurtful if YOU let them affect YOU.

I love this simple KidPower practice for littles. I practice it with my 5-year old periodically, and sometimes we try to retroactively apply it to a negative peer experience that she experienced.  There have not been very many of those yet, so mostly we role-play different mean phrases and act out the trash can process.  My daughter really enjoys the exercise so far and mostly views it as a game.  I think it’s been an incredible way to instill some techniques to hopefully help my children feel empowered to believe in and be kind to themselves which is such a critical life-skill.

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