One of my son’s best friends has leukemia. She was recently diagnosed a few months ago. (Before I continue, her mom knows I’m writing about this. She gave me the idea of sharing one of their many pictures together.) Also, know she is going to be okay and is currently in a 2 and 1/2 year treatment plan. She is a strong, brave and incredibly intelligent young girl. We are lucky to have her in our lives! Helping my son navigate this change in his friend reminded me again how books are truly powerful, especially books on kindness.
While acknowledging that nothing Miles has gone through is even remotely close to how this is impacting his friend’s life, it’s a great reminder on friendship and kindness. Navigating a friend getting sick is a difficult experience for an adult, let alone a 5 year old. She missed school for a long time and then because of her medicine, she looks differently and is more tired. Amongst many other side effects. The only way I can describe his overall reaction to her is fear. Fear of change and uncertainty and an unclear picture of what is happening.
There were a few interactions that made me aware of his fear and uncertainty. At this point, she has not lost her hair yet from chemotherapy. One day, Miles goes up to her and says, “I don’t like bald people.” Yes, it is heart wrenching to hear that he said that to her. This is his best friend. I don’t think it was malicious. He is scared of how she is going to look because it’s different than what he’s used to, and also scared of what it means. This does not make it okay by any means, because it probably hurt her feelings. I had to pause and reflect on why he chose to say certain things. Her clapback (response) was absolutely the best though! She responds, “Your dad is bald. So you don’t like him!?”. Which is very true. Lol.
Miles proceeded to ask his father if he was scared when he lost his hair and if he had cancer also. All these things were clues that he had not fully grasped what was going on with his friend and needed to talk about it more. Even though he was telling me otherwise.
Why I didn’t buy books initially
I have bought books for so many things in his life- potty training, becoming a big brother, kindness, embracing diversity etc. I initially didn’t buy any books to talk about his friend! Serious mom fail. Since this is a classmate, they were talking about it a lot at school. He seemed like he was getting an overload of information. If I brought it up, he’d say “I know, I know.” I concluded that he was receiving a lot of information and I should back off.
I should have known then, that me talking or his teacher talking is very different than reading a book! A book gives them imagery and a story they are not personally involved in. Taking out the pressure of how he was supposed to be or act or say, was very beneficial for Miles- and most kids.
All the information he was hearing actually got confusing and overwhelming, so he started shying away from the topic instead of embracing the change. They were told at school to be careful around his friend- that she can catch colds easier so don’t share snacks with her. At one of our playdates, he had an uncharacteristic response to sharing with her. He didn’t want a lollipop she brought to share with him. This kid doesn’t turn down sweets nor does he have emotional reactions to things like that. It was a wrapped lollipop- which is not the same as sharing a lunch or opened snack that they have at school.
It dawned on me that he really did not understand what was going on. Why sharing this snack is okay- how he can’t catch cancer- how his friend is the one that can catch colds and fevers from him. As a result of him not having a full understanding, he started to come off as unkind. All these things happened around the same time- the comments about the hair and snack sharing.
I truly feel that the majority of the world would be kinder to each other if they understood each other more, and empathized with each other’s differences. But that could be an entire post on its’ own!
Turning Point after Reading some Books
So I finally bought a couple books about children that got cancer and/or more specifically, leukemia. Almost immediately I saw a change in how he spoke about his friend and what she was going through. In the books, they were very clear about how the child was feeling- how cancer is something you fight- especially as a community. He internalized how he has a role to play in helping his friend fight cancer.
A few days later on the playground, a couple girls said that his friend looked “fat”. One of the visual side effects of taking steroids, is that she looked different than before. Miles turned to them and said, “My friend has cancer and you hurt her feelings!”.
Miles is by no means perfect. He will probably still say the “wrong” things sometimes, but I do think he showed up as a friend at a time when it mattered. I know it meant something to her, that she didn’t have to fight all these changes and reactions by herself- at least not every single time. And I hope he will continue to show up like that in the future.
Books 100% made the difference- so important and powerful.
Why Should we Read Books on Kindness?
In general, one of the biggest values in our family is kindness- not just saying nice things to their friends- even though that is an important first step. But also being a peacekeeper in their classroom, an includer if someone new wants to play with them, and speaking up if someone else says something mean- even if it’s not to them. It is something that shows up in small ways, not just something you focus on when something more difficult happens (like a serious illness).
Kids develop and prefer acts of compassion at a very young age. As they enter daycares and schools- they are immersed into large groups of kids with differing personalities. The lines become blurred and they need guidance on how to approach the world.
This is why young kids are especially open to learning about kindness and compassion. We need to teach them the importance. How to identify emotions and feelings. How to encourage appreciation of others that are different than them and empathize with someone else’s perspective or feelings.
Many times when we talk, it can go in one ear and out the other. As my example above reminded me! Books give them imagery and another world that makes a lasting impression. Kids remember them like they are living them in real life. They give our kids the language and context they need to fully embrace a concept or big change.
This made me reflect on all the books I’ve gotten for the boys that I absolutely love and feel they make a profound impact. Books on different types of kindness that will become essential parts of your home collection.
Related Post: 10 Best Children’s Books to Diversify your Library
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Best Toddler and Preschool Books on Kindness
Be Kind– Perfect introductory book on kindness. Expressive pictures and descriptions on simple acts of kindness. Shows kids that kindness is not a difficult feat to achieve, it’s not huge gestures, but little acts in your daily life that can make a huge difference.
Should I Share my Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)– If you do not have an elephant and piggie book, run and get one! My boys think they are soooo funny. And they always deliver a great message through a fun and engaging story by these two lovable characters. Our first that we loved was “Waiting is not Easy”.
The Rabbit Listened– Beautiful book! Makes kids reflect on listening to their loved ones, instead of automatically offering what they think would be best in a situation. Good reminder that everyone needs something different to feel better when they are sad.
I am Human– This book was recommended to us by my son’s friend and her mom. They were reading it and she exclaimed that he looks like my son Miles. And he does! This book describes all the ways being human is always a work in progress. We all have great and challenging aspects of ourselves. It describes how it’s okay to make mistakes, pointing out good choices to use as responses to those mistakes.
Last House on Market Street– Appreciating what we have, enjoying the different people in our communities and giving back. This book reads like an ordinary day between a boy and his grandmother, but paints a beautiful illustration on appreciating all the people around us and the power of giving back in simple ways.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade– Encouraging story about a girl that is little, but fierce. She notices all the bullying and unkind things around her. One day, she chooses to speak up and her small voice makes a huge difference. Perfect example of “see something, say something”. Even if it’s not happening to you.
Taking a Bath with the Dog and Other Things that make me Happy– Great first book on feelings and identifying the things that make us happy- all the little things throughout the day. Good precursor to a book directly on kindness, as identify feelings and how different situations make us feel differing emotions.
The Way I Feel– Another essential book for toddlers on identifying and naming their feelings. The one listed above talks about being happy, while this one explores a variety of emotions. Uses imagery and verses to describe different characters’ feelings and what made them feel that way. Also a great conversation starter, you can ask your kids if they can identify a time or thing that made them feel that same way.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee– A man works at the zoo and has 5 different and close animal friends. Shows how we can be friends with people that are different than us, and different animal species also! After the man develops a cold, the friends all repay his kindness and friendship with the same in return. Demonstrates diversity and kindness beautifully.
Talk and Work it Out– This book is for older kids, maybe 4 and up. It gives kids specific language for how to deal with conflict with their friends or classmates or siblings. Kindness is essential in handling conflict, but very hard for kids to think through what that looks like when they are upset that their friend took their toy or doesn’t want to play. This book will give them tools to work through peaceful conflict with friends.
Strictly No Elephants!– Great message on being includers. Little boy is excited to attend a pets’ club with his pet elephant. But he wasn’t allowed in. After feeling sad, he encounters a girl with a pet skunk. They eventually form their own club with other non traditional pets. But everyone is invited to join. Even those in the other club.
Stick and Stone– Perfect book for toddlers on being a good friend and sticking up for each other. Uses rhyming sing song verses to show the power of loyalty and a subtle anti-bullying message that is influential for young readers.
Same, Same but Different– Kindness is also rooted in understanding and accepting differences. This is a great book on long distance friends that live in different countries, and while there are so many differences because of that. They find all the ways they are similar.
The Barefoot Book of Children– A book for learning about the children of the world. Learning about differences creates empathy and acceptance- key elements of kindness! Also a great conversation starter about differences in a safe space. You can observe what your child brings up or you can ask them questions about what they see in various pictures.
How do you Care for a Very Sick Bear?– Our last essential recommendation for books on kindness. Explores the friendship between two bears, showing kind and gentle examples on how to be a good friend through sickness. Describes how they may feel and simple gestures that young kids can do for their friends. Your child doesn’t need to have a sick friend to enjoy this book, instills the value of kindness even when things change and are difficult. Great addition to any home library.
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