Child Life Specialist Shares Back-to-School Reminder: Pack the Kindness, Gratitude and Honesty
Their character, in terms of their kindness, gratitude, honesty, and making good choices, will carry them further than any other detail of the year.
By Ashley Pagenkopf, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Cook Children's
We’ve all bought the desired backpack or lunch box, purchased the needed clothes and shoes, and reviewed class schedules and lists with a fine-toothed comb. As parents and caregivers, so much detail and organization goes into getting things ready for going back to school.
Every one of my girls has a different priority - how many classes do they have with a friend, if they made it into the class they hoped for, if they got the teacher they wanted, and do they get to do the activity this year that they really want to do.
All of our priorities collide and we forget the most important priority is who we are in the midst of all of these things. As we prepare our kids for returning to school, it can be easy to get caught up in the supplies, schedules and activities. However, preparing our kids for the character traits they will need throughout the year and their lives is also important.
If I focus on just the year in front of me, I can get a little overwhelmed with the extras and forget that my kids’ integrity matters most. Their character, in terms of their kindness, gratitude, honesty, and making good choices, will carry them further than any other detail of the year.
Kindness is not the easiest way all the time. It takes work and fortitude. Choosing kindness is intentional and as an adult, I need reminders and help to choose kindness when others are not.
Our kids need even more help with this. They need ideas and help processing exactly what kindness looks like when they really don’t feel kind toward someone.
Sharing with someone who never shares, helping the person that doesn’t help you, responding softly when others use their words to hurt – all of these things and more are hard but effective in the long game of life.
This is not something that comes naturally. It is important to remind our kids that we don’t know everyone’s story or even all of their story.
We want to be people and raise people that leave a positive mark on others’ lives. So, while we aren’t wanting to kill anyone with kindness, we can be certain that kindness will overshadow meanness every time.
I have said, “Name 10 things you are thankful for!” about a million times in my parenting journey. The minute their world is falling apart and nothing is going their way, I am giving them a speech about everything that is good.
I found years ago, though, that having my kids list the things that they are grateful for made a bigger difference than my lecture.
Just like kindness, gratitude is also not always easy. Some days I can barely come up with three things for my list when the reality is that I truly have a thousand things a day to be grateful for. Again, our kids need help. It has been researched and studied for decades, but what we know is true is that gratitude changes our perspective and ultimately the atmosphere around us.
You put a bunch of ungrateful kids in a classroom together and you have a classroom full of complainers that cannot be happy. You add one grateful kid into the mix and they can change the group. Help your kiddos be the grateful kids.
One way I often see parents help their kids practice this is through highs and lows at the end of the day or as one of my friends calls it “roses and thorns.” Have your kids name their top three good things and the top three hard things of each day.
I also recommend having your kids say three things (or 10) they are grateful for on the way to school before the day starts. This helps set the tone for the day.
Honesty can come with some weight. If you don’t choose the honest way, then your words become meaningless to those around you. To be a person of your word comes with consequences, but it also builds you into a trustworthy person.
I find that honesty can be difficult for kids because they are more fearful of the consequences of their honesty than they are of lying.
This is often because they can’t see how lies pile up and that they will have to lie to keep their first lie intact. It’s our job as parents to help them make the hard choice to tell the truth even if there is a short-term consequence.
Years ago, one of my precious daughters drew on her teacher’s couch and then lied about it saying she didn’t do it. While she wasn’t the only one, she was one of the artists. She had to write a note apologizing for not telling the truth, look her teacher in the eyes and tell her she lied and then I joined her for a lunch hour to try all the options for cleaning ballpoint pen off of a faux leather white couch. She still remembers this!
As my kids head out of the car every day, I say, “Be kind. Make good choices.” I was reading another mom’s encouragement the other day: “You (and everyone you know) are just one decision from falling off a cliff.” It is the truth. One bad choice can change the course of a whole day, week, month, year or even someone’s life.
My husband always says that he wants our kids to know how to think. Being able to stop and think through your next move and decision is incredibly important. This is also something all of our kids need help with.
As parents and caregivers, we want to provide a safe space to think through decisions. We want our kids to learn how to stop and think before impulsively moving into a choice.
If we can remind them and help them to be mindful, we can help them establish their moral compass that will last them a lifetime. Good choices account for yourself, for others, and for the future.
As you blaze into this next school year, try to remember that your kids character matters the most in the long game. It doesn’t mean that we don’t focus on the schedules, activities and supplies, but we prioritize their character and the attention it needs and deserves. Also, don’t forget, we are all in this together!
Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf
Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.