Instilling Kindness In Our Children
My family recently went to see a movie that reminded me of the reality many kids today face: bullying, harsh words, being excluded. Of course, I knew this sad truth already. My job as an abstinence educator in middle and high schools puts me up close to the drama and bullying that often goes on among students. And more than that, I’m a mom who – I’m sure like you – has shared the burdens of my own kids when they’ve been victims themselves.
The film, which included several “bullies,” also featured a few kids who displayed kindness and compassion. And I was reminded, once again, of the importance of instilling these traits in our children from a young age.
It’s never too early to start, really. Because more than being taught, kindness is something that’s modeled by us, the parents. Ouch! Yes, that convicts me too. But how can we expect our kids to be kind if they don’t see us being kind to others?
I am far from perfect in this area, but I wanted to share a few things we do in our home to teach our kids that EVERYONE is of equal value and worth, created and loved by God, and worthy of our respect and attention.
- Don’t reinforce stereotypes. I try my best not to make comments that would pigeon-hole people into certain groups or categories. I don’t want my kids to make assumptions about people just because they are a certain race, religion, economic status, etc. (“Well, Jack lives in the bad part of town so his family is probably no good.”)
- Don’t gossip/ talk about others. I try not to say anything derogatory or condescending about other people in front of my kids. Now, I do explain when I think someone’s behavior or action was wrong, but I avoid labeling people: “lazy, mean, trouble-makers, etc.”
- Explain the root of the problem. This goes along with the last point, but when I point out someone’s wrong choice, I try to explain what the root of the problem might be in hopes my kids will feel compassion for the person, not judgment. For example, maybe this child is mean to others because someone was mean to him, or perhaps he’s dealing with issues at home. Maybe this girl is acting out at school because she doesn’t have parents who have taught her how to behave, or maybe she’s seeking attention for some reason.
- Compliment all kinds of people. We make a point of purposely saying nice things about kids of different colors, weights, abilities and backgrounds. “Doesn’t she have beautiful, brown curly hair?” “Isn’t it cool the way he is so great at science?”
- Stress the insignificance of material things. Every day the world tells our kids that what matters is how you look, what brands you wear, what kind of car you drive, and how nice your house is. It is up to us as the parents to intentionally remind them that actually none of that’s true. It’s the eternal things that matter. I tell mine all the time: “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside; it’s what’s inside that counts and whether you love Jesus.” “It doesn’t matter how nice of things you have; that’s not what life’s about. The purpose of life is to bring glory to Jesus.” Since much of the bullying that goes on among kids is over a supposed “lack” of material things or appearances, I believe this is important.
I believe by helping our kids understand the beauty of diversity and by modeling respect and kindness with our word choices, we can lay the ground work for them to be kind to everyone, even those who are different from them or who make bad choices. However, the One who will continue this work in our children is the Holy Spirit, the giver of this fruitful gift.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
With that said, the most important thing we can do is to pray the Holy Spirit would grow this quality in our children and in ourselves. Just imagine the change we could create in the culture if those who claim the name of Christ would truly exude kindness in all their daily interactions and relationships! What a life-giving culture that would be.