Mimiloshen | Love … for All Seasons!

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Ah, February! The shops are packed with hearts and flowers! Cards to all, declaring Valentine wishes of love and caring. But February is the shortest month! What happens to that brightly colored stream of warm feelings and freely expressed emotions? Does it dry up in March?

How do we help teach our children to become loving, compassionate, caring people 12 months of the year and throughout their lifetimes?

There is a plethora of research examining how empathy and lovingness are observed in young children. Many explanations are offered to clarify and document these most precious of human qualities. Are empathy and compassion learned behaviors? Are lovingness and kindness genetic? Or chemical? From my decades of being with children of all ages and backgrounds, I have a few observations to add to the mix.

Young children, especially, listen very closely to the adults in their lives and watch every move adults make. They listen to your tone of voice, the words you say. They notice body language, facial expressions, silences. When you pass a piece of litter on the street and walk by, they notice the indifference. When you don't stop to help someone needing help, they notice. When a charity solicitation arrives by phone, they see if you abruptly hang up. If someone arrives to share a problem or difficult experience with you, children see how you react. If you half-listen, show little concern, they notice. They learn from everything you do and say or don't do and don't say.

If we want our children to become caring, empathetic, loving people, not just in February on Valentine's Day, but always, we must become their role models. I once read a fabulous quotation (sadly, the author remained anonymous): "The best way to share an idea is to wrap it up in a person."

As we pack outgrown clothes to take to a shelter, contribute food to a food pantry, save pennies with our children to give to a charity, help a neighbor, listen with kindness to a stranger … know that our children are watching, listening, learning.

A long-ago incident comes to mind. Neighbors moved to a new community and soon regretted that move. Their new neighborhood was very unfriendly, people were cold and distant. Our neighbor was out walking her dog with her young child at her side. A delivery truck was stopping along the street. It braked at our neighbor and the delivery person asked if she would hold a package for a family two doors away. Our old friend said, "Of course." As the delivery person stepped out of the truck, he told her, "I'm so glad you are doing this. I've asked three families down the street and each of them refused to hold the package for their neighbor."

The child's eyes widened as she listened. She and her mom carried the neighbor's package into the house to keep it safe until they picked it up.

Don't underestimate simple "random acts of kindness." We learn from the simplest acts and words.

So as we celebrate the lovely holiday of Valentine's Day with all our hearts and flowers and cards and candy, let's promise to keep those words and actions celebrating love and caring alive and well throughout the year. Our children are watching! Our children are listening! Our children are learning!

-Mamalochen" is the Yiddish term for "the mother tongue" and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.