The best Valentine’s gifts — kind-hearted children

“We’re bringing home report cards for Valentine’s Day,” the 9-year-old told me after school recently. “My teacher said it’ll be your Valentine’s gift.”

I always look forward to report card time, because I like to see how the kids are officially doing. Unofficially, they seem to be doing well — all but one of them actively enjoys going to school, and even she’s usually happy she went by the time she comes home.

So while I hope to see columns of Ms and Es for the younger kids who don’t yet have grades (meets and exceeds standards), it’s not my primary concern (although I can’t deny being glad neither kid had any Ns for “Doesn’t meet expectations” this term).

What I really love about report cards are the teacher comments. Specifically the ones that say things like this: “Berry is a creative, polite and good-hearted student.” And, “Duncan is a kind-hearted, bright and respectful young man. Duncan is kind and caring toward others.”

The Ms and Es are great and all. I want my kids to be child geniuses just like any other parent. But knowing my kids’ teachers see their kind hearts is what makes my eyes well up with joyful tears. That, more than anything, is my Valentine’s gift.

What also gives me moments of mushy Mummy happiness is when I realize they’re not alone. Their friends are kind, too.

As I sat on the playground after school, absorbing their report cards, I watched the kids play in the fading sun. They’d made up a game on a weird piece of playground equipment, but there was only room for four kids. Currently, that was Duncan and three of his male classmates. Berry, two grades younger, a slight girl in a pretty green dress, stood beside them, becoming more and more forlorn as the biggest kid bossed the others around.

When she climbed up to join in, he told her to get down.

“Get down, Berry, there’s no room for you.”

I saw her face crumple and called her over for a hug (combined with some potential solutions: call out the bossy kid on his bossiness, ask Duncan to play a game with her, find other kids to play with). Somewhat renewed, but still reluctant, she went back.

It turns out she didn’t need to speak up for herself. One of Duncan’s friends advocated for her instead.

“It’s Berry’s turn next,” he kept insisting. “Berry needs to have a go.”

After repeating himself a few times, and Berry reassuring the big kid she was up for it, she happily enjoyed the bumpy jostling game, then took her turn to jump up and down to bounce the next kid around. (I can’t adequately describe this playground oddity — interconnected, hinging bars covered in padding that go up when you jump on the opposite side).

That’s what matters, I thought. Kindness. What a good kid. I’m so glad Duncan has kind friends.

How do kids learn kindness? This article in the Washington Post suggests that we as parents (gasp!) teach them how to treat others. And given the number of times my mother has accidentally slipped out of my mouth, I know that’s true.

How we are to others — especially to our kids — imprints them with the behavioral patterns of how they learn to be themselves. One day, perhaps next week or years from now, our words and tone will come out of their mouths. We almost can’t help ourselves from becoming our parents. Or our children from becoming us.

During bath last night, Berry complained that her brother doesn’t properly understand The Golden Rule.

“Duncan thinks that if someone is being mean, then that means they want people to treat them mean, so you should be mean to them!” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that. It’s about leading by example.” (My seven-year-old really does talk this way. Ask her about the meaning of life sometime.)

I know where she’s coming from. Duncan and I have gone over this concept a bunch of times. He doesn’t seem to get it, no matter how many times I explain that The Golden Rule is only about yourself — treating others as you want to be treated, not changing other people but changing yourself. He doesn’t quite get it, although he wants to understand, he really does.

And yet, he’s kind, anyway.

I can only take partial credit for this kindness, and that’s mostly genetic credit. Perhaps a bit of genetic predisposition encouraged. After all, what we focus on matters.

I could push the kids’ competitive buttons so they become more academically driven. Or I could belittle and shame them and help them tune into potentially latent mental health issues. They have those things inside them as well (and so do I — I actively filter my parents from coming out of me). Or I can instead focus on and praise acts of kindness, of community-mindedness, of caring — in themselves and those around them.

And that Golden Rule? They’ll get it eventually. Berry understands it intellectually and acts on it more and more as she matures. And Duncan — well, even his teachers agree, he’s a kind-hearted kid, caring toward others. In the end, isn’t that what counts?