Choose to Be Kind

Recently I had a conversation with my oldest son about why he was being mean to his younger brother, because, as I told him, he’s not a mean child. He’s a kind, caring, and considerate boy. He tearfully told me that he didn’t mean to be unkind and it was an accident. And so, our conversation changed from why he was being mean to how it got to the point where he was now accidentally being mean. And how in order to change that he needed to start intentionally being kind. And so, with a few more hugs and apologies we came up with a game plan on how he could practice kindness and get to the place where he’s kind by default.

Regardless of whether or not your child is the one being hurt or the one doing the hurting, if you would like to start some conversations on kindness, bias, and personality differences, here are a few books that can help set the stage.

The first is a fun-to-read textbook for older children called This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is tackling unconscious bias by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Drew Shannon (Kids Can Press, 2020). And I know “textbook” and “fun” don’t sound like they’d go together, but in this case they do. This book is filled with relatable (and thought-provoking or alarming) stories about the ways our brains impact how we interact with others as individuals and as a society. It also has some actionable steps on ways we can rewire our brains so we can start seeing people as individuals instead of stereotypes. For ages 10 to 14.

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The next book looks at selfishness from the point of view of the selfish person, or rather, the selfish squirrel. In It’s My Tree by Olivier Tallec (Kids Can Press, 2020), the squirrel is very possessive about his tree and his nuts. To protect what belongs to him, he builds a wall around the tree so no one else can have any shade or nuts. But once the wall is up, he begins to realize what his selfishness is costing him. This beautifully illustrated story is funny and poignant, and it would be a great conversation starter about what happens when we go to extremes to avoid helping others. For ages 4 to 7.

Another book you can use to start some conversations about kindness and, more specifically, internet safety is On the Internet: Our First Talk about Online Safety by Dr. Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Jane Heinrichs (Orca, 2019). While this book focuses on the internet, one aspect of the online realm is how people relate to others. The book talks about online bullying, how people can invade your virtual personal bubble, and what to do if something makes your child uncomfortable. For ages 6 to 8.

Why Are You So Quiet by Jaclyn Desforges and illustrated by Risa Hugo (Annick Press, 2020) focuses on the individual who is being otherized. Myra Louise loves quiet, and she loves to listen to quiet things. The people around her don’t understand and they are constantly heckling her and trying to get her to change, but she doesn’t want to change. So Myra Louise decides to try and show them why she is quiet and along the way we learn she’s a good thinker, a good observer and a good reader. For ages 4 to 7.

Finally, White Raven by Teoni Spathelfer and illustrated by Natassia Davies (Heritage, 2021) looks at what happens when cultures let their biases win. This story is about White Raven, who was one of the young girls sent to St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay. The book describes how she was treated and how she has tried to heal from her experiences. For ages 4 to 8.

While these conversations won’t always be fun or easy, they may help you find gentle ways to ease into the difficult topics of bullying, bias, and building better habits. Good luck.

Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenburg lives in Victoria with her husband, children, and cat. She is the author of One Tiny Turtle: A Story You Can Colour and many articles. To read more of her work and learn about her upcoming books, check out her website at