“It could be just a little bit better,” she tells her mom of her ensemble.
Kardashian notes that this kind of straight-talking is simply her daughter’s “vibe,” but does ask her to “be easy on me today.”
North defiantly digs her heels in and responds: “I am. I’m not going to lie. I won’t say it at all if you don’t want me to. I’m not going to lie.”
Without getting angry, Kardashian explains to her daughter: “There’s a way to be honest and not hurt people’s feelings, so I want you to learn that.”
Kardashian continues, “Because there’s a way to say, ‘You know, I might not love that.’”
North dutifully makes a second attempt: “You know, I might not love your necklace or your outfit because I’m just trying to support you because you know, whatever you like, you know ... Was that good?”
Modeling precisely the kind of restraint she’d like to see in her daughter, Kardashian replies, “That was a good start.”
“North won’t lie, and that’s amazing. So I’m trying to teach her you don’t need to just jump in and annihilate people for no reason. There’s a way to soften it up,” Kardashian says in her confessional.
While their lives are anything but typical, Kardashian’s description of her daughter’s personality might resonate with any parent: “North can be really a tough critic and then she’s the sweetest ever.”
Kardashian and North’s exchange before the cameras encapsulates a tricky parenting paradox. How do we teach children both to speak their minds and bite their tongue? How can we show our daughters, in particular, that there is a way to be both strong-willed and gentle in their interactions with others?
HuffPost reached out to several experts about ways that parents can encourage kids to balance honesty and kindness.
Model ways to be kind.
A simple, effective way to teach kids kindness is to model it ourselves — both toward our children and others in our lives. This starts at a very young age. Even preverbal children can pick up on our tone when they hear us talking to someone.
“Children often learn how to treat others through what they observe. It is helpful for adults to model how to be kind to one another, especially in difficult situations,” Sarah Kirk, a former school counselor who worked with primarily elementary school-aged children, told HuffPost.
If your child observes you giving gentle, constructive criticism to another person, they are more likely to follow your example.
Remember that kids are watching you all the time, not only in high-stakes situations. Shari L. Camhi, superintendent of Baldwin Union Free Public Schools on Long Island, New York, suggests that parents reflect on their own behavior: “Ask yourself, do I say ‘thank you’? ‘Please’? Do I hold the door for those people behind me? When I speak on the phone, am I modeling kindness or talking about another person in a rude or disrespectful way? What do my online posts say about the way I treat others?”
Modeling extends to the way you treat your child — even in challenging moments. “This should also include kindness and respect being shown directly to the child,” Nicholette Leanza, a therapist at LifeStance Health, told HuffPost.
“Encouraging children to be kind to one another starts with the adults in their lives being kind and respectful,” she said.
Talk about the value of kindness.
One way to help a child appreciate the power of kindness is to “connect it to how they feel when others are kind to them,” Sara Cottrill-Carlo, a former school counselor in Tennessee, told HuffPost. You can also talk about “how it feels after they’ve been kind.”
Repeating phrases such as, “Our family shows kindness,” she added, “can be powerful statements because it turns kindness into a piece of their identity.”
It’s also important to offer praise when you see your child practicing kindness.
“This reinforces the kind behavior to continue and motivates them to want to seek out positive attention,” Leanza said.
Remain emotionally regulated.
Oftentimes, when a child says something cruel, we quickly jump in with a response such as, “Don’t say that! that’s mean!” While we certainly don’t want to condone the behavior, this isn’t the most effective response.
“Often, the adult’s reaction is rooted in anger, frustration, or embarrassment. This does not model a regulated response. Additionally, it can shame the child and does not acknowledge that their feelings are valid,” Kirk said.
What you might do instead is get down on your child’s level and calmly say something along the lines of “It sounds like you have a lot of big feelings about this. Can you tell me more about … ?” Kirk suggested. This kind of response both validates the child’s feelings and gives you some insight into their thinking.
Talk about filtering thoughts before you speak.
While children say things that are often hilariously blunt, even young kids can understand the idea that we should use a “social filter” on our thoughts before we speak.
A reminder such as, “We don’t always need to say everything out loud that we think in our brains,” can be helpful, Cottrill-Carlo said.
You can explain to your child that “we keep some things in our brains, say some things out loud, and make small changes to other thoughts before we say them out loud,” she added.
After an incident, you can ask your child to think about what they might have said differently, or not said at all.
Cottrill-Carlo suggested asking, “Was it helpful or hurtful for you to say that?” Help kids think through whether something needed to be said or was “purely hurtful and said as a way to prove a point or put someone else down,” she suggested.
If your child says something cruel, however, make it clear that such speech won’t be tolerated.
“The goal is to coach compassion while setting a boundary that mean behavior is unacceptable,” Leanza said.
It’s critical that adults emphasize that these same filters should apply to anything kids say on social media. “This is most likely where a lot of bullying and cruelty is happening,” Leanza said. “Having conversations with kids about how they navigate social media is an important step in helping them to understand the effects of their words on others.”
Acknowledge hurt feelings.
If you are present when your child says something mean to another person, Cottrill-Carlo sees value in turning your attention first to that person.
“Responding first to the person whose feelings may have been hurt is helpful because it acknowledges that harm was done while also modeling a focus on restoring/repairing relationships and emotional safety,” she said.
Encourage the use of “I” statements.
“I” statements, as in “I feel _____ when _____. Will you _____?” can help children learn to express their feelings in a more constructive way, avoiding meanness.
Kirk gave the following example. Instead of saying, “Why do you talk so loud? It is so annoying!” you could take a moment to think it through and say, “I feel overwhelmed when you talk really loud. Will you please try to talk quieter?”
Note that this technique requires kids to be able to name their emotions and identify triggers. If your child isn’t there yet, you’ll need to help build those skills first. Naming your own emotions as they come up and encouraging kids to do the same is one way to practice at home.
“The first step is for young people to gain a strong knowledge of emotions and feeling words. We find that many kids only know how to express anger or sadness. However, often underlying is grief, frustration, boredom, embarrassment,” Kirk said. A child who is able to name their feelings will be less likely to express them with cruelty.
If a child says something cruel, another way to help them reflect is to ask, “How would you feel if someone said that to you?”
These kind of questions, said Kirk, “can lead to perspective-taking, leading to more thoughtful communication.”
Stories offer a powerful way for children to learn social-emotional skills. Children can identify the emotions of characters in stories and think about what they might say or do in a similar situation. Stories can also be a low-stakes opportunity to discuss others’ behavior.
“When reading a text that allows for the reader to offer criticism to a character,” Camhi explained, kids could think of other ways the character might have expressed their feelings.
Stories, anecdotes and reflecting on past experience offer kids an opportunity to walk around in someone else’s shoes.
Leanza noted, “When kids can understand how it feels to be the recipient of harsh criticism and how it can affect another person, then that can motivate them to reflect before they speak a criticism.”