This month we are focusing on cultivating a habit of kindness in our home. This is somewhat foundational in parenting. Almost everything can be traced back to being kind. We are kind by sharing our toys. We are kind by not being too loud when another sibling is sleeping. We are kind by speaking nicely to others. We are kind by treating others the way we want to be treated. Etc, etc.
I realize, though, that often I am teaching kindness in reaction to their childish (and sinful) behavior. This is one reason I decided to focus on kindness for an entire month. When my children are not getting along, I frequently say, “Love is____” and they dutifully answer “kind.” One of my reasons for habit training has been to increase my efforts in teaching proactively rather than simply reactively.
There is no better place to double my efforts than in the area of kindness.
God is kind
Not all of the habits we work on are direct attributes of God, but kindness is. I remember several years ago having a conversation with someone who exclaimed about what seemed like a very insignificant and small thing, “God was just so kind to me!” I knew that kindness was an attribute of God, and yet hearing her so naturally and joyfully exclaim about God’s kindness struck me. To this day, I’ve never forgotten that conversation because while the situation was insignificant, that remark gave me a refreshing view of who God is.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works (Ps. 145:17).
As we work on practice the habit of kindness, finding ways to include truths about God and His kindness toward us is a wonderful way to teach kindness as well as learn more about who God is. Obviously, there are so many areas where we could take this, but focusing on one thing makes it easier for both parents and children to focus and internalize truth.
God is kind to forgive us. God is kind to provide for all our needs. God is kind to give us beautiful and good things to enjoy (food, colors, creation, etc.)
Growing up, my Dad would often exclaim at a beautiful sunset or something else in nature, and comment on how good God was to give us that beauty. To this day, I always think about my dad and his natural way of turning a beautiful scene into a worshipful moment whenever I see a gorgeous sunset. I want to pass on those same kind of natural reflections on God’s kindness to my children. It’s important, however, to keep it natural, genuine, and not forced.
We had opportunity just this week to do so. Our family got some good news this week and we mentioned to the kids that God was really kind to us. It was a perfect start to our month of focusing on kindness.
As part of our efforts to learn and practice kindness we are memorizing scripture. There is a reason we are kind. We want to be like God, and God tells us very specifically some things about kindness. We usually say our verse at breakfast or dinner together and then usually discuss some specific ways we can be kind together. We let the kinds bring in their own ideas and it has been really enlightening.
We were asking the kids how they could be kind to each member of the family and when we asked how they could be kind to Mommy, Olivia said: “not waking Mommy up and staying in bed.” (She has trouble sometimes staying in bed in the middle of the night). It really took me by surprise because we have never mentioned it being about me staying asleep that we want her to stay in bed. But, hey, if it works, than, yay!
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32).
Love is patient and kind (I Cor. 13:4).
Role play and model
One of the most important aspects of learning a habit of kindness is to practice, practice, practice. Children need to role play and learn how to react in certain situations before they are in the moment. It takes a lot of extra effort on our part as parents, but it is so worth it.
Practicing possible scenarios and talking about what the kind thing to do in response is so helpful to children. It is no longer teaching kindness when they are being corrected for poor behavior, but now we are practicing how to act before we are in the situation.
To do this, I’ve thought about different areas my children can learn to practice kindness.
Relationships in the home.
Because of the ages of my children, this is where the bulk of our efforts will be.
- We will be kind in how we speak to each other. [Role play conversations]
- We will treat each other how we want to be treated. [If you create something with your hands that you are proud of, you wouldn't want someone to destroy it...]
- We will love each other like Jesus loves us.
- We will accept each others differences, preferences, and abilities. [If someone is proud of their drawing, we should be too even if we don't think it is as good as what we could do.]
- We will love each other and be a friend to each other (and therefore not purposely hurt each other).
Relationships outside the home.
- We will share our toys with our friends when they come over.
- We will answer adults when they speak to us. [Practicing this at home makes it a lot easier for children when they get to church, for instance]
- We will participate, or if we don’t, we will find a kind way of saying we would rather not. [Giving your kids words and things that they can say when they don't want to do something will really help them out.]
- We will do kind things for others. Verbalizing when you are doing something for someone, and including them if possible gives them a model of what kindness looks like.
My kids aren’t really doing a whole lot in this area yet, but if your kids are older you might do more. For now, I often just talk about taking the cart back at the grocery store because that is a kind thing to do, picking up something off the ground because it is kind, etc.
Taking initiative with kindness.
Thinking ahead about what we can do to be kind is really important. It is kind to pick up toys for our sibling even if we haven’t been asked. It is kind to clean something up, help with a task, or do something for someone else without being asked to do it. We are only a few days into our efforts on kindness and I’ve already seen this aspect improving.
Note: I am happy to read books that are along this theme, but I tend to let the story speak for itself. If we start talking about it and it is natural to point out kindness than I do, but otherwise we just read. Kids pick up on more than we give them credit for, and I don’t want to use stories as a platform to get in a moral lesson.
The Lion and The Mouse Aesop’s Fables (We currently have this collection out of the library)
Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel.
Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book – not necessarily kindness, but it is about general politeness and therefore can be connected to kindness. Plus, my kids just like Richard Scarry.
Best Friends for Frances by Russell Hoban
I just started looking for books or stories on kindness so if you have any ideas please share in the comments.
This may seem like a lot, and it may even seem like we are forcing it. But we are doing this throughout the entire month. Apart from saying our verse at the dinner table, everything else is just happening throughout our day. It is not forced at all. Yet, having a specific thing to work on allows me to role play with them, practice the right way to act, and seek out opportunities to acknowledge when they are doing the right thing. And it allows them to have lots of opportunities to practice one thing. It has been very helpful to have one general area of focus.
I am sure it isn’t going to come as any surprise, but this is already proving to be most beneficial to me. Apparently, I still have a lot to learn about being kind.
Since we are talking specifically about kindness, I am noticing how often my speech isn’t kind. Whether it is how I talk to my children, Brian, or how I talk to or about others. I’m noticing how much I don’t take initiative to show kindness to others. I am more aware of how I can be kind.
So, like nearly everything in parenting, I am realizing that in teaching my children, I am the one that is learning most.
Are you working on a habit this month with your children? Please share your thoughts in the comments.