3 Ways You Can Foster Kindness Among Your Children Today
Having been a stay-at-home mom with three children under the age of seven, I have always placed fostering kindness high on my priority list. Living with bickering children can feel like you’re doing hard time in a prison of your own making. I have an older brother and a younger sister with whom I am very close now; but when I think back to our childhood, there were definitely patterns and behaviors in the way that we treated each other that I didn’t want to see in my own children.
As parents, we can get caught up primarily in correcting negative behavior, which—don’t get me wrong—is very much needed at times. I’ve been through “survival mode” seasons with a baby, a toddler, and an elementary-schooler, when it seems that all I can do to get through the day is bark orders. Thankfully, those seasons don’t last forever. Once the dust settles and some calm has returned, I’ve been able to reflect and give thought to what I really want the interactions between my children to look like.
They know the basics: no name-calling, tantrums, or outright disrespect towards Mommy and Daddy or siblings. Those actions warrant immediate discipline, and they are aware of that. But what about kindness? While correcting children for negative actions is an important part of being a parent, encouraging positive actions to replace negative ones is the final step that can really begin to change the way children interact with one another. Here are three tips that I have found helpful in my family:
1. Pray not only for your kids, but with your kids.
Much of my personal prayer time is devoted to the health, safety, and future of my children. I also pray for their spiritual condition, their ability to obey and resist sin, and the relationships they have within our family. Praying for these things aloud with them is also important. Before bed each night, I pray with them that they will serve one another, love each other, and remain close all their lives. These things can easily be overlooked or assumed, but hearing them every day will reinforce the importance of the relationships they have among their siblings. That it is not something that can be taken for granted. The thought of them possibly growing apart going into adulthood breaks my heart, so I keep closeness in their relationships with each other at the forefront.
2. Teach your children the art of edification (building up one another).
As much as I loved my siblings growing up, I can’t really remember giving or receiving from them compliments on a regular basis. Just like any other good thing, it takes practice to create a habit. I often ask my children to list three things about their siblings that they love or to think of a quality one of their siblings possesses that they admire. This is especially helpful after conflict. I ask them to be specific—“because she is nice” doesn’t cut it.
You would be surprised at how children’s faces light up when they receive a real, meaningful compliment from a sibling. If you think about how small their worlds are and how few influencers they have, it is very powerful to hear kind words spoken of them by a sibling. I love the idea of getting them in the habit of this when they are young, so that it hopefully becomes second nature to them as they grow into adolescence and young adulthood—when they will need to hear those kind words even more.
3. Encourage “team spirit” in your family.
It has been amusing to watch how—as soon as they have a handle on the rules—the first thing my children want to do is to make sure everyone around them is obeying them. Part of this is human nature and a God-given desire for justice. But it can also take a turn and be very divisive. The temptation to be a tattletale is common among our little ones, and there are a couple of things I have found with mine that seem to help. With my oldest, who is often charged with “watching over her little sisters,” being a tattletale was something she did out of instinct. Part of it was her natural inclination to be the little reporter, but there was often the intention of wanting to get her little sister “in trouble” as well.
Explain to your children that their family is a team. Every member of the family has a part in teaching the other family members how to behave: “Instead of tattling on your sister, could you gently correct her and teach her how she could have done something differently?” Taking it a step further also allows them to start learning empathy: “If it were you who took the toy out of someone’s hand, would you want them to tattle on you, or ask you nicely to have it back?” They begin to feel a little empowered at the opportunity to teach and take more ownership of their options. It is a beautiful thing to watch them turn into encouraging, nurturing little beings.
I have noticed a distinct difference in the way my daughters interact when I am diligent and consistent with these small changes. There are still those long days that I seem to be barking orders, policing arguments, and weeding through tattles, but it helps to have a few tools in the tool belt to get through the day and keep focused on our Savior and his grace.