What’s the overall character of your home? Is it a waystation for weary travelers, where family gathers after a hard day’s work, play, or school? Do each of you have your room and your things, leave me alone? Do you have personal force fields, television, ipad, gaming controls, that others have to penetrate before getting to interact with you? If any of these questions represent the character of your home, guess what? Kindness doesn’t live there.
Kindness is a quality of social interaction that can be an intentional part of any relationship. It’s doing for someone else without being directed or asked. It’s being with someone because you cherish that time together. For parents, it fills your interaction with your child with teachable moments of direction, instruction, encouragement, and cheer-leading. It eases drama, makes conflict more manageable, and takes all into account where family planning activities are concerned. How about inviting kindness into your home and your family?
Twelve-year-old Travis got home from school early. After retrieving a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies from the kitchen, he plopped in front of the television and got lost in the music video he found.
He glanced out the window to see his ten-year-old sister, Heather, getting off the school bus and coming into the house. Instinctively, Travis pulled the plate of cookies closer to him.
“Hey, Weirdo, ‘sup?” he muttered through a mouthful of cookie.
“Yummy,” Heather eyed the cookies. “Can I have one?” she reached for a cookie on the plate.
Travis pulled the plate closer to him and protested, “Hey, get your own!”
“Travis, you have eight cookies here. I just want one. Come on, please.”
Travis pulled the plate even closer. “Nope. I don’t want you to spoil your appetite. Mom’s bringing dinner home when she gets off of work. That will only be in two hours,” he smirked.
“Do you always have to be such a jerk?” Heather muttered as she turned to dump her book bag in her room.
Any kindness in this exchange? Not in the least. In fact, it rather typifies the cruelty some siblings endure at home in their growing up years.
There are three axioms I want to share with you to encourage more kindness in your home. First, parents “pay for their raisin’” That is, our go-to, reflexive parenting tactic is a duplicate of what was used by our parents on us when we were growing up. Sometimes that’s a blessing, sometimes a curse. Talk with your spouse about your early days and identify the behavior of your parents that you want to keep, and that which you want to scrap.
Second, you can draw more flies with honey than with vinegar. Praise wins over criticism. When helping your child to grow in quality character, use the oreo effect. Just like the cookie, start with a positive comment, followed by the correction or criticism, and then finish with another positive comment. Your child then makes the necessary changes within the context of praise and encouragement.
Finally, what you pay attention to grows. Your children will not practice kindness unless they see it from you, both to your spouse and to them. Pay attention to the good stuff, and it grows. Pay attention to the bad stuff and, sadly, it grows.
Our children are the emotional barometer for their parents’ feelings. They know and express what you are feeling before you even feel it. Bad stuff as well as good stuff. So, show them the good stuff. Be kind to them.
Find something to compliment your child on every day. Show appreciation when they are themselves kind, either to you, but especially when they are kind to their sibling. Correct them when you need to, but seek context. After stopping the behavior, say something like, “Whoa, Travis. This isn’t like you. What else is going on?” Acting out is a product of their “stuff.” Through active listening and full attention, address the stuff, so that your child feels heard, and the acting out will subside.
Make time for family activities, even identify an electronics-free zone at home, such as mealtime together with everybody’s devices turned off. Be kind and you provide the soil from which kindness will grow.