Always be kind!
I yell to Harrison as he hops out of our minivan. Backpack too large for his thin frame, blonde hair perfectly brushed because he insists on doing it every morning, smiling wide with that missing-tooth smile. Excitement radiating at the prospect of getting to school early enough for a few rounds of wall ball.
“Always be kind!” he echoes back to me. Then he runs through the school gate.
This is how every morning goes for us.
We talk a lot about kindness in our house. “Who were you kind to?” is the after school question that my kids receive first. Before “Do you have homework?” or “Can you please do your chores?” Tyler and I have made a conscious effort to put a lot of value, within our family, on being kind.
I’m not talking about “random acts of kindness” like leaving a gift card in a random place or paying for coffee for the stranger behind you in the drive-thru. While those acts of kindness have their value, I’m more focused on kindness in our every day life–kindness toward our peers, toward people in the service-industry, strangers at the grocery store we frequent. How that can radiate for one person and spread to the community around us.
It’s so easy to look around and see the anger all over the world today. I mean, have you looked at a comment section on an article on Facebook lately? It’s not a pretty place. People are mad, and hurting and sometimes it can feel like a lost cause to even try.
But that’s the thing isn’t it? If we don’t try, who will? And if we don’t pass kindness down to our kids, what does that mean for future generations?
How do you make kindness a priority in your family? Below are five strategies we use in our family.
Make caring for others a priority
It’s obviously hard to get kids to think outside of themselves and even harder to try to explain empathy in ways that young kids can understand. My favorite parenting tool is to use children’s books and children’s books about kindness are especially valuable. Books deliver the message that kindness is important, they put your child in the shoes of someone else, and it opens the larger discussion about what kindness looks like in the “real” world.
Some of our favorite children’s books about kindness are:
- Stick and Stone
- Good People Everywhere
- Strictly No Elephants
- Last Stop On Market Street
- A Family is a Family is a Family
- A Chair For My Mother
- Dragon Was Terrible
- We’re All Wonders
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Lemon
While parents tend to prioritize their child’s happiness and success, it’s key to shift that narrative. Kids want to be kind. We just need to show them that their kindness is more valuable than hitting the game winning home run or getting straight A’s.
Stop praising kids for helping around the house
While we’re on the subject, stop paying them too. Look, I know positive reinforcement is a good thing–we use it in many ways in our family! But when it comes to chores and helping around the house, these are things we all do to help each other–to keep our family functioning. Instead of “Good job for doing that chore!” I say “It’s important to do chores to help our family.”
This strategy is key to helping kids see outside themselves and to learn that their actions have effect (whether good or bad, whichever they choose) on other people. Chores at home are a building block for the type of student, coworker, and community member they will be.
Own your mistakes
I grew up in a household where the parents were always right and the kids were always wrong. I’m more interested in exposing my kids to a full-range of emotions and experiences. I can’t even count how many times I’ve screwed up as a parent. I yell, I get frustrated, I take things out on them. I’m not proud of it. What I am proud of is that I always apologize when I’m wrong.
This strategy teaches kids that it’s ok to screw up sometimes as long as you recognize it and take the necessary steps to make it better.
Model kindness every day
I know some parents don’t want to hear this but kids won’t do as you say, kids will do as you do. How you treat your server at dinner, what you say to a person who cuts you off in traffic, what you say about a homeless man on the corner–these are actions that will have a lasting impact on your kids.
While a great reminder, it isn’t enough to just yell “Always be kind!” out of the car window at drop off, they need to see it.
Whenever I see a kid–any kid–show kindness, I’m always sure to say it out loud. “That was so kind!” or “Thank you for your kindness, we/I really appreciate that.” It’s a small gesture but a great reinforcer for kind behavior.
Remember that nobody is perfect
I fall short of my high kindness standards all the time. I’m not perfect and I don’t expect anyone else to be. In the same way that kindness should be modeled, so should grace and flexibility. We’re all human with a wide array of human emotions and experiences.
I know that because we were born on the “right” side of an imaginary line that my boys were born in to a certain amount of privilege. My hope is that by making kindness and empathy the most important thing in our family, that they recognize their privilege and use it to help others; to combat racism, ableism, sexism, and other injustice in the world. I hope that they will always choose to be kind.
If you want to continue this conversation, please join us for Diedre’s, from Are Those Your Kids, webinar: Raising Kind, World Conscious Kids. It takes place, Thursday, 6/27. You can sign up for FREE here. This discussion is so important and we hope you’ll join us!
How do you implement kindness in to your every day life?