9.7 Editor's Pick
January 2, 2019

5 Lessons from Kids on how to Stop being So Damn Mean to Each Other.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by ecofolks (@ecofolks) on Dec 25, 2018 at 11:00pm PST


A friend of mine wondered aloud the other day, “Why are we all so damned mean to each other?”

You wouldn’t expect such musings from this friend. He’s a big dude with a beard, a shaved head, and a bunch of tattoos—definitely the sort who’s more comfortable in the smoky barroom than the stuffy boardroom. He knows how to fight, and he thinks everyone should train with weights and learn how to protect themselves.

I guess you could say he can be pretty mean himself sometimes. So when he notices how mean we’ve all become, it must be pretty bad.

Everything somehow tends to bring me back to the not quite six-year-old daughter I lost to a sudden illness several years ago, and my friend’s observation was no exception. I started thinking about my daughter’s worldview as an innocent five-year-old.

Unlike us hardened adults, she (and most kids) wasn’t purposefully mean to anyone. She was the opposite of that: open and gentle and kind.

Maybe we can learn a few lessons from her, and from all children, about how to treat each other with more kindness.

1. Open ourselves to the possibility of forming new friendships.

As adults, experience tells us to be cautious when we meet new people. Our speech is measured, and we put up walls so they can only see glimpses of who we really are.

Trust is earned over time, not given freely. Perhaps there’s wisdom in behaving this way, but it’s certainly an impediment to friendship.

When a child walks into a room and sees another child, friendship is almost instantaneous. They not only warmly greet each other with smiles and laughter, but they often offer a toy or snack or even embrace within minutes of first meeting. I’m not suggesting we all go out and start groping complete strangers, but I have so-called friends I’ve known for a decade or more who I don’t recall ever touching outside of a handshake.

The first cue we can take from children on our journey to being nicer people is to lower those walls just a little. At least be open to the possibility of making a new friend rather than assuming everyone we meet wants to sell us something or is looking to take advantage of us in some way.

2. Live in the moment.

I’ve often told a story about rushing to get my daughter to preschool one morning. One arm was filled with her backpack, her lunch box, and my laptop as I wrestled her into her jacket with the other. If you’re a parent, you know this chaotic drill all too well.

We labored toward the car parked in front of our house. I had morning meetings scheduled and did not want to be late, though I knew my fate even as I struggled to avoid it.

Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks and bent over to inspect something on the sidewalk. “Ruby, we don’t have time for this,” I muttered as I reached for her arm to drag her along.

She pulled away and continued her inspection of…nothing. I tried coaxing her to move along by offering some sort of sugary treat for the drive, but she was laser focused on…nothing.

Exasperated, I dropped everything to join her and see what could possibly be so interesting. I knelt and squinted and then knelt some more. My nose was practically touching cement, and still I saw not a damned thing.

She ran her tiny finger along the ground, and finally I saw it. She was following the path of some miniscule red bug that was no bigger than a speck of dust. I’ll never know how she was able to spot this thing while walking toward the car.

She knew our morning routine as well as I did, and she was certainly aware that I was fighting a losing battle against the clock to herd us toward our various obligations for the day. But when she saw an opportunity to stop and immerse herself in the here and now, none of what was supposed to happen 20 minutes in the future mattered. There was only the tiny bug that was right there in front of her.

Okay, so what does this have to do with treating each other better?

When she was snuggling with me, or playing a game with me, or sharing an ice cream with me, her complete and intense state of being present made me feel pretty special. It made me, and anyone else she was with, feel like she really valued that time.

All we really want from each other is to feel valued and important, but we can’t make anyone feel that way if we’re constantly distracted. Just being physically in the same room with someone while our minds are elsewhere isn’t enough.

Our loved ones need our attention. They want us to listen to what they have to say and laugh and cry with them and really share ourselves.

One of the quickest ways to be more present in the moment is to put our phones down and pay attention to the real person who’s right there in front of us. If they’re ever gone, we’ll wish we had that time back more than anything else.

3. Communicate more clearly.

Knowing where we stand with a child is very easy. They’ll tell us to our faces with straightforward language completely devoid of any hidden agenda. Sure, this unfiltered honesty creates plenty of cringeworthy moments, but at least we know exactly what’s on their minds and what we need to fix.

“Dad, what’s that gross bump on your cheek?”

“Well son, it’s a pimple I was really hoping everyone wouldn’t notice when I stand in front of the group to present at that important work meeting this afternoon. Thanks for pointing it out so tactfully and sparing my feelings; at least now I know I need to apply that concealer a little more liberally.”

“Dad, I’m hungry” or the ever-popular, “Dad, I have to poop” doesn’t mean we have 10 minutes to wrap up whatever we’re doing. Nope, a declaration like this from a child is fair warning that the meltdown is imminent if we don’t take immediate action.

Imagine how much simpler our lives would be if expectations from bosses, partners, and friends were so clear. We’d never be left guessing the underlying meaning of a conversation again, because the entire meaning would be right there on the surface.

Our work projects would all be prioritized correctly. The boss would simply say, “You’re not getting a raise this year if this one doesn’t get done,” so we’d drop everything else and get it done.

All those failed attempts at mind reading between men and women would be eliminated, too. Wouldn’t that be refreshing to actually know what our partners need from us in order to feel fulfilled in our relationships!

It really shouldn’t be such a pipe dream. We could just say what we’re thinking.

Maturity and adult social skills might even help us improve on the bluntness of children by stating things a little more tactfully without watering them down to the point of rendering them meaningless. Maybe it’s a tricky balance, but it’s not impossible. I think it’s called communication.

4. Forgive and really forget.

Watching children play while resisting the temptation to interfere when an argument develops between them can be quite enlightening. Generally, they act swiftly and decisively to serve whatever justice they’ve deemed appropriate, and then the disagreement is over.

If there’s any pouting, their short memories don’t allow it to linger for long. As we discussed, they’re too busy living in the present to dwell on what happened even five minutes ago.

Children certainly don’t hold grudges that ruin friendships for months or even years, as is so common in adult relationships. All is forgiven by bedtime and forgotten with the dawn of a new day.

We’d improve all our relationships by striving to end most disagreements with such definitive closure, whether we get our way or not. “Winning” the argument, whatever that means, might feel good in the moment, but the harm done to a friendship is almost never a trade worth making.

5. Get excited about something…anything. 

Most adults are so damned boring. It’s like the life has been sucked right out of them and they’re zombies trudging through their days.

Maybe the lives they envisioned as kids aren’t the ones they got, and they really are existing now just to pay one bill after another. I’m not really sure, but it’s depressing to watch.

Little kids, on the other hand, get excited about anything. They run through stores and parking lots as their parents implore them to slow down, barely able to keep from bursting through their own skin.

Remember that miniscule bug on the sidewalk? Yeah, not exciting. Wrong—to a kid it was mesmerizing. They view everything with this sort of innocence and wonder, asking a thousand questions and being consumed by curiosity.

This attitude produces an important by-product as well: it breeds unbridled joy and laughter that are contagious. It’s why kids are fun to be around. It’s why we often say we feel more youthful and energized in their presence.

We become better, more interesting versions of ourselves when a little of this childlike excitement rubs off on us. Suddenly, we have more to share with the world. The zombie disappears and a real human being who has passion for life appears.

We’re not just the grumpy guy waiting in line at the supermarket, avoiding making eye contact with everyone around us as we tend to yet another obligation. We’re a person who begins to see more possibilities and opportunities to grow and learn.

When we’re excited about something, we have something to say. Sharing our passions for cooking or nature or reading or whatever gives us something we can use to do the one thing we all really want to do: connect with others.

I’ll admit, all this nicey-nice stuff is especially difficult for me. Life has beaten me down a bit, like it has for anyone who’s been around a few decades, and I’m jaded.

I have a bit of a short fuse and I get irritated with people rather easily. Heavy traffic and crowded stores and restaurants are a few of my biggest triggers.

If this sounds a little like you as well, maybe we should try conjuring our inner child to see things a little differently. Perhaps then we’ll begin to see friends where foes formerly stood, to be a little more present in our relationships, to say more of what we really mean, to let small slights go and move forward, and to connect with people by sharing our enthusiasm for bugs—or all the other amazing things this life has to offer.


author: Chuck Miller

Image: @ecofolks/Instagram

Image: YouTube

Editor: Nicole Cameron

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Allison Banbury Jan 24, 2019 11:19am

Thank you, Chuck, for this article. I especially liked this part: “All we really want from each other is to feel valued and important, but we can’t make anyone feel that way if we’re constantly distracted. Just being physically in the same room with someone while our minds are elsewhere isn’t enough.” I have a 12 year old at home and lately I’ve caught him double-checking and looking back over his shoulder to make sure I’m *really* watching and not simply returning to whatever I was doing when he interrupted me. My OCD gets in the way–it’s hard for me to watch something frivolous (the newly designed car on his video game or the new yo-yo trick he just learned) when there are dishes to be cleaned or emails to be read–but I know that whatever “it” is isn’t frivolous to my son and that I need to work harder to be present. Thanks for the compassionate reminder!

sdlfkjlk Jan 9, 2019 2:08pm

This was great!

Chantelle Jeffers Jan 7, 2019 9:59am

Love this article. Kids are amazing and we really can learn so much from them. I don’t think we’re mean rather closed (minds and hearts) and distracted 🙁 I think we close off once we get hurt and it’s really hard to open back up once that happens, but I’m committed to doing so because I know it will be hugely beneficial for more than just myself.

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Chuck Miller

Though some readers may have the impression I only recently began writing, I’ve actually been at it for quite awhile. I started by writing about the niche topic of strength training all the way back in the 1990s. It was the one thing I knew the most about, so that’s the one on which I cut my teeth.


I wrote for two popular magazines. Anybody remember magazines? They were printed on this stuff called paper. We used to write on it. With pens and pencils. Ah never mind. The magazines I wrote for were called HARDGAINER and MILO, and I’m still proud of those articles. They contained some really great training instruction.


When HARDGAINER ceased publication in 2004, I stayed in touch with its intensely private publisher, Stuart McRobert, and hounded him for over a decade to grant me an interview. When he finally relented, we found enough material to publish a book in 2016. That book is called Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon, and writing it fulfilled one of my big life goals. I wish everyone would buy it and train with weights as it advises.


Strength training is the only thing I wrote about for a long time, but then my precious daughter, Ruby, died. My heart was broken and I needed an outlet, so I started grief blogging. My blog is called Roo-minations. Get it? Catchy, right?


I don’t even know where those words came from, but they’re some of my best. They reached a fair number of people too (27,000 and counting), and they gave me confidence that maybe I had something to say on some new topics.


Then I started writing essays. I just wrote about any subject that inspired me and sent my words off to see if anyone would publish them. To my surprise, a few websites did. I wrote about a conversation I had with a kid from Estonia I met on a bus in Honolulu. The kind folks at Elephant Journal thought that was an interesting exchange and published it. I wrote about how to be happy, even though I’m really grumpy. They liked that one too. I told people to say “I Love You” to people they love. They thought that was a good idea, and they published it.


I learned a whole lot from my daughter in just a few short years. I wrote an article on the lessons she taught me about how we can all be nicer to each other. They thought she was pretty smart, so they published that one, too. Over 7,500 people who agreed with them read it and made it one of my most successful. Thanks Roo for being so smart and making dad look good!


I wrote about homeless people and they published that. Not as many people read it, but they should. Even when some stuff wasn’t as widely read, I kept on writing because I love to write. Thought Catalog was gracious enough to run my ramblings on a strange dream I had about karma and a lost love and a disastrous job search and an all day search for my coffee creamer.


You get the idea. I found a voice, and I started using it to rant, to try to do some good, to make you laugh, and to make you cry. I love the feeling I get on those rare occasions when someone tells me my words had an effect. When I start taking writing too seriously, however, I remind myself that my most popular article to date is the humor piece I wrote about an Instagram influencer who lost her followers and then found her mojo again.


My latest writing venture is a children’s picture book that’s beautifully illustrated by Jacob Below. It’s called Will Little Roo Ever…?, and it’s about a little girl with developmental delays who’s struggling to catch up to her peers. It’s inspired by my daughter, but it’s not entirely her story. It’s my take on the emotional journey of every child and family who finds themselves in a similar situation. I hope the story empowers children and comforts parents.