Strong’s concordance defines kindness (as it is used in Galatians 5:22 referring to a fruit of the spirit) as “moral goodness” and “integrity.” Wiki defines it as “the act or state of being kind, being marked by good and charitable behavior, pleasant disposition and a concern for others.”
From my thus far limited experience as a mother,nearly 4 years in total, I have found that children are both innately kind and innately selfish. Selfishness, when acted upon, often yields particularly unkind results. My children are both very sweet and we’re often told so. However, my daughter wants to steal every toy my son plays with and my son wants to hit her when she does it. In my book, that ain’t kind. I know this is a phase, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to actively train them to fight their unkind impulses and to foster their kind ones.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to value people who are genuine and kind far more than I did as a teenager and young adult. Now, by kind I don’t necessarily mean bubbly, sappy, or super cheery. Some kind people are those things and some kind people are not. Kindness, in my book, is about our internal orientation towards others. Do we gossip at the drop of a hat? Do we automatically find fault with others instead of trying to imagine ourselves in their scenario?
Do we think that someone who “got themselves into that situation” may as well flounder and figure it out on their own? I admit I find the last one hard. I’m an independent only child and it often passes through my mind “oh well, you did it to yourself, what do you expect?” To a certain extent this is true, but I believe Anne of Green Gables said (multiple times) that often when we get ourselves into a bad situation, that’s when we feel the worst and need kindness the most.
Here are some ways and thoughts on growing kindness into our children’s character.
1. Discipline the opposite
When my son hits my daughter or my daughter steals my son’s toys and runs, I get off my chair or stop what I’m doing and intervene. It is thankless and repetitive and annoying, but I do it. Why? Because I know that even though eventually the phase will pass, I want them to know that some things are not acceptable under my roof. The mean toddler behaviors may stop but will only morph into mean child behaviors. Stealing, kicking, hitting, screaming in someone’s face, etc. are not kind and will not be tolerated.
If negative and mean behaviors are allowed to continue they will become part of the child’s personality. Once your child enters school they will be away from you for hours and hours and you will have no idea what they’re doing. You won’t have a chance to discipline that unkindness. Therefore, the younger you can begin to eradicate bad behaviors the better you’ll be able to help develop the kind ones into their general demeanor so that by the time they go to school you can trust they are relatively good mannered.
2. Show kindness yourself
Everyone has heard the old phrase that children will become like you, not like what you tell them. I honestly find great peace and rest in this. Not because I’m perfect, what a joke, but because I do try with great effort to be the kind of woman that pleases God. I will make mistakes and I will own up to them. I will act rashly and quickly and I have to apologize often. However, I am transparent and will be all these things in front of my children. If we are mean and thoughtless and our children hear us talking bad about our neighbors, friends or family members, they will surely not take your command seriously when you tell them not to.
3. Serve others
When your children see you acting in love for others, they will think it is “normal.” It will become normal to them that you visit the sick, pray for others, cook and deliver meals, help others in their yards, etc. When these things are a part of normal life for them (though of course they’ll complain about it sometimes) it will be ingrained in them and something they carry into adulthood.
Thank you cards are one of these things. Though small, I was always required to do thank you cards as a child. Now, even at 32, I still do thank you cards or specific thank you emails for gifts. I feel as though it would be impolite and ungrateful not to. It was the regularity, normality and influence of various acts during childhood that carry on into adulthood.
4. Require thoughtful behaviors of your children
Thank you cards, again, are a small but clear example. When one sibling is napping or not feeling well, require the other ones to help “care” for him or her. I mean simple things, bringing a drink, keeping quiet, letting them choose the movie, etc. It is about going through the process of thinking of others with a kind heart that will show children how to make kind decisions. This summer I’ve been in Florida and we’ve had a blueberry bush full of blueberries, a fig tree full of figs, and now the grape vines are about to come into season.
Though I was pregnant for most of this and trying to relax (you know, thinking kindly about myself), in the future I think it would be a great fun activity with the kids to pick fruit for others and deliver. A nice little jar filled with blueberries or figs with a note saying “hope you’re well” can go a long way towards brightening someone’s day. When they are small you can still require them to do things with you. Just because they’re made to do something doesn’t mean they won’t eventually see that it’s the best way. We make them brush their teeth and shower, don’t we?
5. Use their own unique personality to mold their own kindness
Some people are naturally more kind and sensitive to the needs of others. That is okay. God made us all individually with different work for each of us to do (Eph. 2:10). However, each personality can still be kind in its own way. Some people have naturally padded shoulders for you to cry on. Some people have good common sense and wisdom and you want their advice. As your children get older you will begin to see their strengths and you can help show them ways to be kind utilizing their strengths.
Handy boys can be kind by sharing their talents with those in need. Nurturing girls can show their kindness by helping babysit or befriend those who are on the fringes. Generous kids can show their kindness by giving gifts to others. Though we should require basic kind behaviors from our children, different personalities will mean different acts never enter their radar. By finding ways for your kids to be kind within their strengths and personalities, it will help become a part of who God has made them to be.
We can’t control our kids. We didn’t create them (although we did incubate them). We don’t determine their base personality and temperament. However, the home environment we create is the greatest influencer in their lives. In our busy culture kindness can get thrown to the wayside and that is truly a tragedy. Mean people make others nervous, insecure and wary.
It isn’t hard to be kind, but it does take practice. If our children think the universe revolves around them they will be too busy thinking about themselves to be kind. We have such a privileged position and limited time, but I believe we can bring out this quality in our kids with a little effort and consistency!
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