“Kindness in action” is my new favorite phrase.
I learned this from Lauren Shenkman, a friend and colleague who works as the Program Director at the Riley’s Way Foundation. Her job is to help amplify the empathy of young people: the leaders of tomorrow. She and her colleagues support the projects with resources from the non-profit. Additionally, the foundation offers incredible opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and learning. The tagline of the organization is: “leading today for a kinder tomorrow.” Her work has always been inspiring, but in this moment it feels incredibly essential.
Lauren is navigating these times, not just as a supporter of youth activism and empathy, but also as a parent. Her boys are ages 8 and 12 and we often get together to talk about our shared struggles and triumphs in parenting. While I would normally love to commiserate with her over a glass of rosé, the current pandemic has shifted our dialogue over to Zoom (where we can have a distanced glass of rosé and still commune albeit virtually!).
Below are some excerpts of our chat. She’s got great wisdom surrounding how to help our kids get plugged into compassion. So much has to do with finding intrinsic motivation for the activities and then making them a family routine.
Letter Writing Campaigns for Actionable Kindness
Here’s what I learned: Seek out the connection with folks your children already have the relationship with to get the ball rolling. First, support kids to think about the people closest to them, who they’d like to connect with through kindness. This could be a grandparent, babysitter, a teacher or a friend that they miss. Then, engage in activities that can bring joy to those folks.
“What does it mean to be alone? What does it mean to reach out?
We reference the article about Empathy Activities (for Kind and Not-Bored Kids) that I wrote on the blog too.
What I love about Lauren’s suggestions is that from our own little community we then expand our circles of empathy from there. This actually reminds me of Loving-Kindness meditation rooted in Buddhist thought. Lauren’s actionable idea is all about letter-writing and it is so inspiring!
Routines of Kindness and Activism
Here we talk about the inspiring ways that the teens of Riley’s Way were checking in with their friends and how to make routines of kindness.
A question that they are asking themselves at Riley’s Way is:
“How do you check in with your friends? That’s part of your routine of kindness: reaching out and being open to how you really are doing.”
How Do We Show Up?
I love Lauren’s metaphor here about the routine of brushing teeth – and it’s parallels to building a kindness practice in your family!
Also, how refreshing to commiserate about those unrealistically ambitious days of quarantine. As the panic-y obligation falls away we can find that intrinsic motivation – for our kids and ourselves.
“We look at each week and we think, what are we doing for the other people that we care about in the world?”
There’s both structure and freedom in that open question and thinking about it afresh each week can be an invigorating way to create routines of kindness and activism.
Listening A Lot
Thinking about social justice, the radical re-alignment and essential work that needs to happen to end systemic racism:
“It’s overwhelming for us, but the idea is that we are listening a lot…
We are having real conversations that are messy.”
When we think about the media and kids, so often there is a desire to shield, to protect. But rather, Lauren asks:
“How do you talk about the news in a way that makes you feel like you can be part of making a difference?”
Upstanding…Even During a Pandemic!
“Life is sometimes about practice and routine and getting out of your pajamas during the pandemic and showing up!”
The Inspiring Teens of Riley’s Way
“They take on social justice issues through the lens of empathy. And it’s radical.”
Through their “Call for Kindness” and their Social Justice Councils they amplify the voices of young people.
“You’re never too young to make a difference and you are never too young to organize to make a difference and a bigger impact. Those are the voices in our country and our world who are saying, ‘This is not ok. We need to do better’”
Kindness in Action
Nya, the co-chair of the Riley’s Way Bronx Council, had major empathy for kids who were stuck at home, and created a “Buddy Reading program”.
More importantly than the story even was that essential connection – the feeling that the kids were not alone and that they had a buddy out there. Additionally, the books that the teens chose were by BIPOC authors and about kids and adults of color.
“Representation matters. Connection matters.”
We All Need to Play A Little More…And We Can Do It!
“You’re giving the infrastructure of how to play. And when you play you are able to be more open. And you are able to have empathy.”
What a great excuse to connect with a friend around a topic we are both passionate about. I’m looking forward to learning more from Lauren and especially those kind young leaders of Riley’s Way.
I encourage you to check out the fabulous work that Riley’s Way is doing.
And check out more ideas for games that support empathy at Child’s Play in Action.
Thanks for reading and watching!