We've all heard it before. Be kind.
But what does that mean? Is kindness different than Kindness? And how do we teach our children radical and transformative kindness? How do we teach them Kindness with a capital K?
Kindness with a capital K is hard and messy and awkward. Kindness isn’t about finding just the perfect words or the perfect solution; it’s about stumbling over our words and taking chances. Kindness isn’t about waiting for someone else to make the first move; it’s about showing up and reaching out in the best way we know how. Kindness means doing the hard thing, extending radical empathy, assuming good intentions, and cutting others some slack. And Kindness with a capital K takes practice – lots of it. In fact, I think that Kindness with a capital K just might take a lifetime of practice.
1. Prioritize kindness. In order for our children to learn Kindness, they need to know that we -- as adults, as parents -- prioritize Kindness. When I pick my kids up from school my first question isn't "how did the spelling test go today?" or "what did you learn in math?" My first question to each of them is: Who were you kind to today? How were you kind today? I listen to their answers, nod my head, and sometimes ask a few follow-up questions. Then I ask, how was someone kind to you today? Similarly when I say goodbye to my son, my parting words are "Goodbye! I love you. Be kind!" I hope that by repeatedly reminding him to be kind, and prioritizing Kindness over math scores and spelling tests, that they learn that Kindness is more important than accomplishments.
2. Volunteer as a family. Earlier this year my older son came up with the idea of a monthly Giving Day in our family. His idea had been that we would draw names and each give each other some small gift. Since I need another gift-giving holiday like I need a hole in the head, I was apprehensive at best. But after talking it through, we decided that Giving Day wouldn't just be about giving to members of our little family, but giving to other outside of our family. We have volunteered at Feed My Starving Children, paid for strangers' meals at restaurants, and bought supplies for a local animal shelter. Though Giving Day has slipped off its monthly place on the calendar, we still try to volunteer together by donating food to the local homeless shelter or helping at church as a family. By volunteering together, my husband and I hope that our children will learn that the web of Kindness is as vast and wide as we make it.
3. Let them show Kindness and affection in their own way. One of my sons loves to hug and says "I love you" often. The other son is less of a hugger and expresses his feelings in more subtle ways. Whether our children show Kindness with kisses and "I love you's" or by being patient when a younger sibling is trailing behind, it is important to recognize each individual's style of Kindness. Just as there is no one way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a good one, there is no perfect road map of Kindness, but a million different paths to a kind and compassionate life.
4. Demonstrate non-attachment to "stuff." This is a tough one, especially for young children, but my husband and I encourage our children to share everything (the one exception being their blankies). In the end, toys, books, and other such items are just "stuff" and "stuff" isn't as important as people and relationships.
5. Apologize often. Despite my best efforts, I screw up at this parenting gig on a daily basis. I yell. I am impatient. I set unrealistic expectations. I get distracted. But I also apologize. We hug and press the reset button. In order to teach our children Kindness, we must also teach them grace and compassion. We must show them how to be generous with our apologies and brave in our vulnerabilities.