I’m the mom of two daughters — two passionate, hardworking, thriving women who embody the qualities that any parent wants for their children. They are undeniably strong, but they have still faced their own difficulties, including mental health issues such as anxiety and depression that I sometimes struggled to understand or respond to when they were growing up. 

The importance of kindness

My husband and I raised our daughters to be independent and to take care of themselves, but we also wanted them to understand the importance of generosity and compassion. And as they’ve grown up, I’ve come to see the fundamental link between those things. Raising happy and healthy kids has to start with raising kids who are kind — to themselves and to others.

We all want our kids to reach out to the peer who seems lonely, to help the stranger in need, and to be generous and understanding of others. These behaviors are not just nice to have; they’re a must-have. How well we treat one another directly impacts how well our society functions and kindness is a key component of building strong, productive communities. So teaching our children to be respectful and caring of others is the responsibility of every parent.

“Just as we want our children to learn history and math, we also need to prioritize these ‘soft skills’ ...”

Learning to self-care

But we also need to teach our children how to be kind to themselves. As we instill in them the importance of the Golden Rule — treat others like you would want to be treated — let’s also remind them to “treat yourself like you would treat others.” Let’s let them know that it’s okay to cut themselves a little slack, to ask for help and for what they need, and to value their own physical and mental wellbeing.​

While kindness can seem like an intangible goal, we can empower our children with tangible resources and tools. We can create schools that are welcoming, positive places to learn and we can increase access to quality social and emotional learning curricula, teaching kids the practical skills they’ll need to regulate their emotions and to relate effectively to others. Just as we want our children to learn history and math, we also need to prioritize these “soft skills” that will govern their ability to focus in school, cope with adversity, and forge healthy relationships.

The future of wellness

Hand in hand with these measures must be a transformation of the way we view and talk about mental health. It’s time to end the stigma we’ve allowed to veil the issue and to let kids know that taking care of their mental health is every bit as important as taking care of their physical health. Just as we offer them strategies and services to improve and maintain their bodies, we need to provide the same for their minds, including education about mental health and better access to mental health services.​

These are steps we can take to teach our children that being kind to yourself is just as important and admirable as being kind to others. We need to instill in them — and model for them — an understanding that taking care of yourself is not selfish; it’s what will enable you to take care of others. Setting that expectation, and backing it up with real education and resources, is fundamental to empowering our children and to building​ a world that is kinder and braver for everyone.