By DeeDee Hughes
Read Part 1 - Kindness Makes a World of Difference
How we speak to and treat our children matters. Modeling skills such as good listening, how to speak nicely even when you are in a hurry or upset, and the Golden Rule, all contribute to creating a kinder Planet Earth.
"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love." ---Lao Tzu
Of course, demonstrating behaviors like these is one thing—figuring out how to teach these "kindness skills" to our children can take a bit more thought.
Here are some suggestions for teaching kindness to kids:
Speak with respect
Words are very powerful so use respectful language. Kindness and respect go hand-in-hand, one often leading to the other. Do you describe your two-year-old's behavior as stubborn (which has negative connotations) or persistent (which is considered a valuable asset)? Is the gaggle of kids in your backyard noisy or enthusiastic? What about the timid or reluctant child who is simply approaching new experiences in a thoughtful or careful way? There's a world of difference in attitude behind these word choices. Imagine how your child feels when described as stubborn, noisy, or timid. How would you feel? Becoming more aware of what you say and making an effort to "kind-up" your own vocabulary can make a big difference.
Everyone wants to be heard. Listen to kids and they will listen to you. Be especially careful of interruptions, and if you have to interrupt, apologize first, just as you would if you had to interrupt a business meeting or an adult conversation. When children are older, having regular family meetings can help them learn how to listen carefully and wait their turn to speak. Using a talking stick, common in many Native American traditions, can help remind everyone that the person speaking deserves everyone's full attention.
Lots of parents find themselves passing along the old saying "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" because it is so true! "Ask nicely" is a common reminder in many households. Other parents like to pretend they can't hear whining, or they insist on a demand being rephrased into a pleasant request before complying. In return, make sure you phrase your commands into gentle reminders and requests. "Dirty clothes go in the basket" usually gets a quicker (and more cheerful) reaction than "This place is a mess! Clean it up!"
Service is at the heart of kindness. Doing something nice for someone is extremely rewarding so let your child help you. Letting your child help also gives him or her feelings of belonging and being needed, and teaches that everyone has gifts to share. Kindness should not be forced, however so let your child choose to be kind. Provide them with opportunities to perform kind acts, but don't make them (after all, that wouldn't be kind).
Strive to live by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This one can be the most challenging of all as parents transition from the full-time, no-boundaries caregiving of early childhood into the more independent preteen and teenage years. There's a point at which all of us realize that we need to knock on our pre-teen's bedroom door before entering if we expect him to knock on ours. Remaining patient as our teen is still searching for his cell phone ten minutes after we planned to leave is important if we want him to be patient the next time we're running late. Being guided by the Golden Rule will help us become more aware of these ever-shifting parent/child boundaries.
"The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth."
-Albert Einstein (1879-1955); physicist
Apologize with grace
Last, but maybe most important of all: Say you're sorry. When we model disrespect, we must also model apologizing. Teaching kindness is easy when everyone is in a good mood, well-fed, well-rested, and patient. But teaching our children what to do when we forget to be kind is just as important as teaching them how to be kind in the first place. A sincere apology shows respect and humility, and can be one of the kindest acts of all. Sometimes two simple words can have a magical effect—a cure-all, a peace offering, and a fresh start all at once.
Accepting the Gift in Return
So, is it enough to model kind acts, speak with respect, and be kind to your kids? Not quite—there is one more missing ingredient. Just as part of giving an apology is learning to accept one graciously, part of service is learning to accept the help of others. It's not enough to show kindness to others. We must also accept kindness from others.
Many of us don't like to ask for help. We like to do things ourselves. But we all need one another on this planet and helping others is a gift that must be accepted in return. So, when your children "help" with dinner or household chores, express your appreciation and gratitude. When they pick up something you've dropped, or get something you can't reach, or carry groceries without being asked, give your heartfelt thanks. When someone offers their help, accept it with gladness.
The benefits of kindness extend outward in a ripple that can spread from self to family, into the community, and around the world. Treating others with respect and kindness honors and affirms their human dignity and worth. It's a lifestyle worth cultivating and consciously sharing with your children. It's also a lovely way to spend your day.
DeeDee Hughes is the managing editor of Oak Meadow's educational journal, Living Education. DeeDee has homeschooled her two teenage sons on and off over the years. She strives to see the kind heart inside every person she meets and teaches her sons to do the same.