You can’t buy it (not genuinely anyway) and you can’t teach it. It’s also the one quality I hold in higher regard than any other. What am I talking about? Kindness.
For me, kindness is non-negotiable, and it’s always been that way.
My half-sister is completely blind, and from the age of four I remember being told that I needed to be kind, look after her and help her. I did this without questioning it, and there began my life of kindness.
I never remember being unkind to my parents and did all I could to support my dad, admiring the kindness I saw some professionals show him, scorning the unkindness a minority demonstrated.
When I met the father of my children I told him I didn’t want money or fancy material items, only kindness.
In conversations with my daughter, I’ve told her that the one quality I love more than any other is kindness. The Kindness Club t-shirt is hers, and I hope it’s a club she will be a life-long member of (she shows promise, but isn’t consistent with this yet! Then again, she is only 7). With my toddler son, I talk about kind hands (kudos to his Pre-School for that idea) to illustrate how it isn’t nice to throw things or hit other people, so he’s started on the kindness concept as well.
And if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would want it to be that I was a kind person.
Kindness in dementia care is underrated
Because I don’t believe kindness is teachable, it’s often not really rated as a key part of dementia care. Much like wellbeing, it’s hard to nail exactly what it is, although with Wellbeing the 5 Ways are a fantastic starting point.
Kindness is also very individual: how we interpret words and actions and how these leave us feeling will vary from person to person. Perhaps one of the most important ways to think about kindness is to ditch the phrase of ‘Treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves’ and adopt the mantra of ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’. This way, we can really appreciate what the person we are supporting needs and wants, being mindful that ‘A person with dementia may not remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.’
True kindness is when we adapt our approach to the person. We might change our language to avoid words that the person perceives as unkind (even if we don’t have the same perception ourselves), or change our actions because the other person won’t understand or like something we are doing (even if we’d personally be ok with those actions). These are small changes that can make such a difference to how a person feels after an interaction with us.
The kindness feeling
Kindness leaves us with a lovely feeling. Remember the last time someone did something lovely for you? Maybe they sent you a gift, a thoughtful message or gave you a hug. When people who show us kindness remember us, connect with us, share something with us or do something for us it can trigger a range of positive emotions, including happiness, contentment, surprise and joy.
The template for kindness in my life has definitely been my mum – the kindest person I know. But the kindness of people I don’t know well has stuck in my mind over the years too. A recent conversation with a lady who gave me some parenting advice was incredibly kind because she was very honest and empathetic, she validated how I felt, offered solutions and gave me her time (Never underestimate the power of time – this is even more important for people with dementia). I left that interaction feeling far better than when it had begun, and that is a mark of someone showing kindness to another human being.
Can you be too kind?
As a teenager I remember a then-boyfriend saying to me: “You’re too kind. People will take advantage of you.”
Sadly that statement has come true occasionally over the years, but I wouldn’t change me or my natural inclination to be kind even though I’ve, at times, questioned it. I’ve learnt that boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of are important though!
Top kindness tips
In addition to everything I’ve said above about different expressions of kindness, some less obvious ways to spread kindness (thinking especially about supporting an individual who is living with dementia) might include:
- Supporting a person to do something they don’t think they can do is a kind act that can lead to a sense of achievement. Work side-by-side and don’t nag; it isn’t kind to badger someone into something.
- Supporting a person in an act of kindness for someone else. We all have special people in our lives – would someone you support like to do something thoughtful for someone they love (but they need help to do it)? This feeds into ‘Give’, one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing that I mentioned above.
- Looking after animals and the natural environment are ways to express our kindness that aren’t always as recognisable as kindness from person-to-person. Supporting someone to care for a plant, look after a pet or make a home for bees or butterflies are all ways to show kindness to the plants and creatures we share our planet with, and these actions can bring a lot of happiness to both the person and the individual supporting them.
- Being present and in the moment, especially as a person’s dementia progresses, is a very important act of kindness. Let the person lead you, helping them to feel in control of everything that’s being said (or not said) and everything that’s happening (or not happening). Namaste care can be a beautiful example of this.
- Supporting someone in their darker moments. When we don’t know what to say or do because someone is in pain, grieving, confused or lost, it can be easier to walk on by or keep quiet. Being in The Kindness Club means stopping, acknowledging and letting the person express themselves, however they need to do that. We might be unsure of what the right approach is and we may not have the answers they need, but the act of stopping and being there is an example of simple, human kindness.
Until next time…