When I was a toddler teacher, during a supervision meeting with my director, it was brought to my attention that I was telling children to “be nice.” I was told that the program preferred to help children learn to “be kind.” I was confused. I was under the impression that these two words were synonymous.
My director challenged me to look up the definitions of the words and think about it. What I found was that “nice” can mean the same as “kind” but not necessarily in reverse. Flowers are nice, such as, they look nice or may smell nice, but flowers cannot be kind.
At our next meeting, we discussed this topic further. We talked about how the word kind holds a very specific meaning in regards to a person’s nature or disposition; it also encompasses attributes such as being considerate, helpful, mild and gentle.
I really liked this idea of thinking and began using the word “kind” rather than “nice” when it came to helping young children learn about themselves and each other. If I noticed a child giving another a gentle touch or hug, I made sure to tell that child, “You are being very kind when you give hugs.” When I saw children sharing or playing cooperatively, I let them know what they were doing was an act of kindness and point out how good that must feel.
When I first transitioned into being a coach at 4C for Children, I have to admit, that using the word “kind” was so engrained into my practice that it became a little bit of a hot button to hear teachers telling children to “be nice.” I wanted to explain my thinking and convince teachers to come over to my side. My belief was that this was best practice and important to the social/emotional development of children.
Recently, I have had another shift in thinking. Does it really matter which word is used? Isn’t it more important to help children learn about what it means to be nice or kind? It is more beneficial to help children facilitate a conversation about a conflict versus just telling them to be nice or kind. When a child sees a teacher sitting on the floor to read a book and they run over to join the group, pushing through the children that are already seated, is it that child’s intention to be unkind? No, they just want to join in. Simply telling a child to “be nice,” does not teach them to find ways to ask to join or say, “Excuse me, please scoot over.”
We have to go beyond telling children how to act or behave. We have to model for them with our own behavior. It is important to give positive feedback to children, at all ages, when we see them being kind and cooperative. Most importantly, we have to remember to interpret children’s actions with the best of intentions in mind. If there is a worry that a child is hurting another, go beyond stopping them and explain what they can do instead.