At the age of 4, Kim Ponce’s son, Thomas, said to her that he wouldn’t eat anything with a face. At age 5, Thomas would go online and google about his interest in animals – and he found Peta Kids.
In Kindergarten, a teacher suggested to his mom that he start watching more Dora the Explorer, and other typical children’s TV shows, rather than his preference of Animal Planet (they didn’t listen to this teacher). At this age, he would state that helping animals was his life’s purpose. “This is what I am supposed to do. That is why I was put on this earth.”
Around age 10, Thomas learned about the National Animal Rights Conference in Washington, DC and asked his mom if they could go. The costs of going was too much for them at the time. Thomas created a Facebook causes page to raise the money and emailed it to his mom with a note asking her not to be upset, but he really wanted to go to the conference. Of course he raised the money.
At that conference, he met a lawyer who suggested he begin lobbying and this was an important insight for him. Thomas (now a teenager) has since created his own nonprofit called Lobby for Animals to support individuals to lobby and advocate for animals and the environment. He has influenced countless children (and adults).
My burning question (as a brand new mother of a 3 month old) is – what did Kim Ponce do so RIGHT? How did she help to raise a child activist? What can I do as a parent to support the next generation to be advocates, to stand up and take action against what is unjust?
So, I got to sit down with her to ask her. And what I learned will stay with me as I raise my own son.
When Kim and I began speaking, I first noticed how immensely humble she is. She was a bit nervous to be interviewed, but wowed me nonetheless. What I found thru my conversation with Kim is that she is a very wise, loving and devoted parent.
What I realized after talking to her is that her parenting style did not lead her to create an activist, but rather, her nurturing, her listening and her respect for him enabled him to be confident, to be his best self, and to follow his purpose and path in life with support.
As a new parent, what Kim shared with me were quite priceless tips. I want to share some of the highlights with you:
- She listens – and really hears her son – As Kim said to me: “Listen to your kids – hear everything they are saying. Take an interest in what they are doing. And then back them/support them. They need to get a strong foundation at home.” Kim would describe when Thomas would come to her with a topic he was interested in, she would listen to him, and then go off and research it herself, so that she could go back and engage with him and expand the conversation. Kim says, “I think it is important to make a point to talk to your kids everyday.” When Thomas comes home from school she doesn’t’ just ask what did you do, but she asks, “What did you learn?”
- Be a model – Kim grew up in neighborhood in Brooklyn where it was easy to negatively react to any challenge. Once she became a mom, she knew she had to set an example. She wanted her son to see things in a positive light to help make him the best and happiest he can be. She sets an intention to act with a positive spirit in all circumstances. She emphasizes that kids see and hear everything! Even when you don’t think they do! If you curse, they will. If you yell, they will. Teach by example!
- Treat your child as a person – Kim recognizes that Thomas is just a person, and treats him with the same respect as adults. As Kim says: Kids “have all the same emotions and feelings as you and I, and it’s up to you as their parent to guide them and help them to understand the world they are growing up in and to learn how to exist within it.”
- Let them make choices and decisions (within reason obviously). Kim has let Thomas learn how to be independent but makes sure he knows that. She says, “I am always there and have his back.”
- Have their back – Kim told me how she was at a conference with Thomas and teenagers and adults came over to her and hugged her and thanked her for supporting Thomas being vegan. Some cried that they wished they had the support of their families when they were younger and how it drew a wedge in their relationship. Kim said to me: “Respect your child’s choices in life even if you don’t agree with them 100%. When Thomas went vegetarian and then vegan, my husband and I were not, and didn’t quite get it but we supported him regardless. It wasn’t for a few years later that we had our own moment of understanding. We actually learned from him and that is a wonderful feeling for all involved. When you respect and support your child’s decisions you are respecting your child and his/her ability to make a choice and them as a person.”
- Don’t shy away from the tough topics even if they make you uncomfortable. Kim describes how it is so important to be honest, even if it makes you blush. Whether the topic is sex, politics, bullying, what’s going on in another country, etc. – Kim says she shares her experiences, and when she lacks them, they google together!
- Read, Read, Read to them about everything, from the time you become pregnant. After we spoke, Kim reflected on our conversation and sent me a follow up note. I wanted to share one piece of it that she says: “to me this sums up probably my entire style of parenting and has always stuck with me in my thoughts while parenting. Outside of my room hung a plaque with the poem Children Learn What They Live. (see below). It is something that hangs in my house to this day, along with a whiteboard of daily reminders and house rules which are not chores, but are reminders for the entire family: “always be open minded, say I love you each and every day, 3 hug minimum, never yell unless there’s a really big bug or danger, always listen and hear the person speaking, ask for help if you need or want it, don’t ever go to bed angry or upset about anything.”
After concluding my interview with Kim, I realized that Kim did not intentionally raise an activist, rock star kid. Rather – she raised a child to feel loved, confident, supported – to want to explore, learn and to be kind.
Through her words and actions, she allowed Thomas to grow into his best self. So – while her recipe for parenting may not bake every child into an activist; thru love, support and listening, it certainly will help them to become their very best rock star self.
Children Learn What They Live
by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.