The Law & Order actress talks about raising compassionate children and the joys of adoption.

By Ilyssa Panitz
June 07, 2015
Mariska Hargitay

For 14 seasons, Mariska Hargitay has played Olivia Benson, the tough-as-nails police detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Off-screen, the award-winning actress is a big softie when it comes to her three children: August, 6; Amaya, 1; Andrew, 8 months. When spoke with Hargitay at Safe Horizon's Manhattan Child Advocacy Center, she told us why it's criminal to be anything but nice in her household.

Your organization, Joyful Heart Foundation, is teaming up with Do the KIND Thing for a good cause. Tell us more about this collaboration.

Do the Kind Thing has been on our radar because its philosophy is to inspire people to do kind acts for others, and it aligns with my own personal philosophy of being nice and compassionate. We are assembling healing kits for abused children across the country. Our ultimate public challenge is to get millions of people to do a small act of kindness so the movement of caring for others continues to build.

Is the topic of giving back a conversation you have a lot with your family? How do you teach your oldest son, August, to do the kind thing?

I try to model it for him every day. I teach him what it means to be kind, such as sharing, helping his sister pick up toys, and letting her choose first what she wants to do. I continue to build on it so it becomes a child's mind-set to be considerate. My dad always taught me that being kind is the way to live your life. He always said, if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. Just smiling at someone walking down the street can make the person's day. It's all about paying it forward.

Sticker charts seem to be a popular reward with kids. Do you have a reward system for your children?

I use words. I say things like "I am really proud of you" or "I love how you are thinking. I love how you make people feel." I also say, "Seeing you do something nice makes me feel really good." August is a compassionate guy.

You recently expanded your family by two through adoption. How did you prepare August for the role of becoming a big brother?

[laughs] My story is a little different than most. In our case the stars aligned in a different way. August came home from a playdate one day and said, "I want a baby Iris." Turns out, the playdate he was on, the child had a baby sister named Iris. When he said that, my husband, Peter, and I looked at each other and replied, "It is so interesting you said that." When we went ahead with the adoption, August thought it was his idea. Then he wanted a little boy. We said, really? A miracle happened and our second son, Andrew, fell out of the sky and into our home.

Did you read any special books, watch any DVDs, play any games, or take any classes to explain what it meant to have a new sibling?

It wasn't like that. If anything, we were in sync. It was sort of like divine intervention. The timing was perfect for us to have more children. We weren't expecting our second adoption at all. It was a huge surprise to everyone, but it was so great for August, who had been saying he wanted a little brother.

I take it he's liking his role as big brother.

I think he feels very powerful. He's starting to say now, "We are three, and four is a more even number." He feels there should be two boys and two girls.

Do your children have a favorite book they like you to read?

Amaya loves That's Not My Mermaid. I think we read it 10 times a day.

Do you have a particular system for scheduling your children?s playdates, doctor's appointments, and classes or activities?

We have everything on a big calendar, which is color-coordinated. There's one color for each child. The babies have classes three times a week, so those are in one category, and because August is older, he has his own thing. Aside from having a lot of communication so we don't drop the ball, I'm also a fan of putting things in my iPhone and iPad.

Which classes have Amaya and Andrew responded to well?

My kids are so different, so they respond to different things. We do a Big Muscles class for Andrew, who was born premature. That class has helped him with balance and development. My daughter, on the other hand, loves music. She comes alive and just starts dancing when the music and drumming starts. My kids are also in swimming classes, which is so important. Water is a fear for any parent, for obvious reasons. I was taught at an early age, and August is a swimmer, so I need to know that all my kids know what to do in water. Both of my little ones know how to blow bubbles and go underwater. Not only do they love it, but it also gives me great peace. All three of them are so different, and I love learning what each one of them likes, so I can encourage and support them.

Photo Credit: Taylor Hill

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