Introduction Simple kindness and friendliness is a great human value. It involves parts of other values, such as the empathy of sensitivity and the boldness of courage, but it is a very separate and different value from these. This value is also partially an extension of the value of peaceability. In peaceability we try to teach children not to hurt and to avoid conflicts. Here we teach the positive side of being a friend, acting friendly and kindly, and becoming more polite and courteous.
Simple friendliness (based on our earlier-established criteria and definition of a value of something that helps others and diminishes hurt in others) is a profound value. Often a simple act of kindness or a word or two of extended friendship can change another person’s attitude and mood for the rest of the day — and longer.
In trying to teach kindness and friendliness to our children we once again realize that they are not lumps of clay to be molded as we choose, but seedlings — already who they are — ready to blossom if watered and fertilized and exposed to a lot of sunlight.
Wherever your children fit on the scale of natural kindness and friendliness to others, there is always room for improvement on this important value of life.
A friend of ours told me a story that I thought illustrated how parents can be kind and friendly to their own children and thus improve the rapport and feeling between them.
He came home from work one day, went into his “private” bathroom, and found little five-year-old Lulu, who loves trying to clean things, holding an empty bubble bath container and standing over a bathtub that was overflowing with soap suds onto the carpet. He nearly reacted the way most parents would have: “Lulu! You used way too much soap! You’re ruining the carpet! You should never try to do things like this without help!”
But he had some especially tender feelings in his heart that day for Lulu, and he said, “Oh, Lu, you were trying to clean Dad’s tub, weren’t you?”
Little Lulu looked down and said, “But Daddy, I used way too much soap!” It was a tender, warm moment that ended in a big hug.
If the father had said, “What are you doing? You used way too much soap,” Lulu would have said, probably with some bitterness or some hurt, “But Daddy, I was just trying to clean your tub!” It would have been an unpleasant, separating moment. — Richard
Sometimes we don’t need to tell our children what they did wrong. They already know. If we are kind and gentle with them and come to their defense, they will say what we would have said, and the moment will be warm and the feeling will be right.
Have a “gentleness and politeness” pact.” This can create a mood of particular kindness and warmth in your home during this “month.” Get together as a family as you start this month and discuss how pleasant a place the world is when people are kind and gentle. Ask the children to join you in a “pact of gentleness and politeness” for the month. Explain that this will mean a commitment of two “do’s” and two “don’t's.”
Be polite — say, “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” and look for chances to extend acts of courtesy.
- Smile and ask, “How are you?” Expect a real answer to the question and listen to it.
- Don’t yell or raise your voice or be critical of another.
Don’t say anything critical — neither of someone else nor of yourself. (No “I’m so stupid” or “I can’t do anything right.”)
Talk frequently about how things are going, how people feel, how hard it is to remember, and so on.
Decide where your child stands in his natural abilities to be kind and friendly. Know what your challenge is with each child. There is nothing quite like the joy one feels as a result of kindnesses to those who really need and appreciate it, whether it be a good deed for one little old man across the street or kindness on a more grander scale. However, kindness and friendliness are never as easy as they sound. Some children show their insecurities by pretending to be popular but putting other children down in ways that are outright cruel, while other shrinking violets and painfully shy children spend all their time wondering why no one likes them. Others are genuinely well adjusted and naturally look for ways to be kind and friendly to those around them. Try to determine where your child fits in his natural abilities to be kind and friendly so that you know where to begin.
Teach by example.
Watch children respond. Once they get over the suspicion that you’re putting them on or rehearsing for a part in some play, they will begin to mirror what they see in you.
Teach your child the value of relationships, not only with friends but with family. This will increase their appreciation of close “blood” relationships. During an evening meal every few months take the time to reinforce the importance of having friends and being a friend. Foster and nourish the idea that even though outside friends are very important, the best friends they will ever have should be their brother or sister (as well as his or her parents). Childhood friends will come and go, but family members will last throughout life. Those friendships should be nurtured and treated with care. You could even try a private game among family members. When one child is persecuting another or arguing or calling names in a way that he would not think of doing with a friend, have the persecuted child say the word friend, which is a code word to the other child to lay off and begin treating him a little more like a friend. Although it may not work at the moment, it will help to raise the awareness of what they’re doing. (The same game works for parents who talk to their children in less than glowing terms, or vice versa.) You could even suggest that when a child is angry or being rude to another family member, an onlooking child has a responsibility to walk up to the child being attacked, put his arm around him, and say, “Don’t talk that way to one of my best friends.”
Sample Method for Preschool Age: The “Magic” Words
Intrigue small children with the notion of using polite words. Tell the children any story that involves magic words — abracadabra, Rumpelstiltskin — or any story you want to make up. Then ask them if there is such a thing as real magic words — words that make good things happen when they are used.
The answer is yes. “Please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “you’re welcome” make people smile, make them feel better, make the world work better.
Explain this notion several times and prepare your children for the simple correction or reminder, “Remember to use the magic words.”
Sample Method of Elementary Age: The “Catch an Eye” Contest
This gives children practice in the friendly art of direct eye contact. When you are going somewhere with one or more children, particularly to a public place, have a contest to see who can “catch the most eyes.” To count someone, you must look at them until they glance back, then smile as you catch their eye. Count the ones that smile back and count separately the ones that don’t. The “smile-backers” are worth two points, the “glance but don’t smile” people are worth one point.
We were at a shopping mall with three of our children (ages nine, eleven, and twelve) one day when we held our first “catch an eye” contest. The game got quite competitive, and each of the children ended up with a score or over one hundred.
Afterward, as we were driving home, Saydi observed, “It’s amazing how many people just look away the minute you catch their eye.”
Jonah added, “Yes, and they’re not near as fun as the ones who look back at you and smile. I think those are the happy ones.”
Sample Method for Adolescents: Name Remembering
It’s a good idea to help adolescents learn to remember the names of people they meet. Discuss with children the importance of people’s names. (The most important word to anyone is his own name!) Point out that remembering names is a great key in the art of making friends. Teach children to remember a name. One is to use the name several times in the conversation you have when you meet a person. Say, “Nice to meet you, Joyce. Where do you live, Joyce? Joyce, do you have a brother who works at Miller’s?” Another is to write the name down (on your planner, appointment book, notebook, etc.) as soon as possible after you meet. At the end of the day glance at the name again, associate it with the face, and it will be yours forever (or at least for some time).