What if we gave our kids gold stars for Empathy, Cooperation, and Emotional Bravery?

A new year in Brooklyn. Now starts the long, hard stretch until the end of the kids’ school year. Second grade and they just turned 8. It’s a huge transition. They look older now, most of the baby softness is gone and their life arc is bending towards “big kid”. It seems like this has been an emotional year. Alejandro spent cropped-anc2012075g120042.jpgmuch it of crying over small things, like being told not to shoot his Nerf guns in the direction of the most heavily trafficked area of our loft. That’s the thing about lofts – there are no walls – we live, play, and fight in an huge open area surrounded by 14 foot windows. Kinda cool but hard with 8 people doing all that living together. Artchan has been doing fabulous, his English fluency has increased at the speed of light. It was a little rough going for a few months among the 3 children. In particular Alejandro was angry about sharing the house with a new, younger addition to our population. I tried to encourage him to widen his circle of family, “Open your heart to him.” He would cry and say “I don’t know how to do that.”

That led me to thinking about the values of empathy, cooperation, and heart opening and how we do or do not teach that to our children. Do we teach them to how to be a contributing part of a community and to sometimes sacrifice their needs for the good of the whole?

For the most part, I would probably say no, this culture doesn’t do that. Individualism is indoctrinated in us very early. In my kids’ school, all the kids know their so-called reading level, they strive to progress beyond their level and they compare themselves to each other. The kids that are already reading beyond grade level are encouraged to brag about that fact, their parents’ praise them and brag about their ability to read thick, chapter books. We praise and encourage Individual accomplishment and achievement.

What if we didn’t tell our kids they were special, and instead said that EVERY child is special?  What if those same children were encouraged, to use their talents to help the other children, instead of obsessing over their individual achievements? OR what if their individual achievement wasn’t praised at all, but rather their class achievement was praised instead.If every child mattered, really and truly mattered, then it would be our children’s duty to stand up for each other, to stop and lift the child next to them, to eagerly learn about the new child who joins the class.

What if Emotional Intelligence Mattered? WHAT IF, emotional intelligence was tracked and encouraged and the ability to write and express their feelings and the feelings of others was noted and praised. And instead of the ability to read ridiculously long books that were written for 12 year olds, their ability to get along, not boast, and not boss was praised instead. WHAT IF the act of standing up to a hurtful comment, a homophobic comment, a racist one, a gender bullying comment was given a gold star. What if we gave our children the tools to speak about their emotions and listen to other children share their feelings? It would be truly revolutionary, because hopefully, by grace, our children will grow up to become adults. These would be adults who could lead us into a new world.

Jeff and I are trying some of this in our own house. Rather than giving stars for chores or homework, we are giving stars for facing their fears. In this case, both kids have a phobia of dogs, so each time they do something that takes extraordinary courage for them, like spending time with a dog, they get a star. They get a star for cooperation, playing nicely with Artchan. A star for problem solving when feeling frustrated, angry, or afraid. A star for deep breathing and meditation when feeling anxious or nervous. A star for being respectful to the people in the house.

We will let you know how it goes. But in the early stages, it is just nice to end the night going through the day and asking the kids, did you do your deep breathing today, did you face your fears today? Were you kind and empathetic today? How were you a contributing member of our community/barangay?

Interesting questions for us to ask ourselves everyday too!