Simple kindness and friendliness is both a skill and a 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.
Kind, friendly people are generally more happy and successful than those who are often unfriendly and unkind. As we help our children work on kindness and friendliness, we’re helping them to grow and stretch in very important ways.
Friendliness and gentleness also apply to self. Children who learn to be gentle and tolerant with themselves generally grow up to be less stressed and more relaxed and secure.
Simple friendliness is a profound value. Often a smile, simple act of kindness, or a few words 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.
Whether your child is naturally shy and introverted or naturally quite out-going, you can help him or her find real satisfaction in striving to be kinder and more friendly.
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 family members and beyond.
He came home from work one day, went into his “private” bathroom, and found little five-year-old Lulu holding an empty container and standing over a bathtub that was overflowing with soap suds onto the tile. He nearly reacted the way most parents would have: “Lulu! What in the world are you doing? You’ve made a huge mess! You’re causing a flood!”
But instead, he took a moment to LOOK. He saw that Lulu had a scrub brush in hand and that the container she was holding was bathroom cleaner. He remembered he’d mentioned at breakfast that the tub was really looking dirty in the bathroom. So instead of accusing or reacting in anger, he said, “Oh, Lu, you were trying to clean the 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 aren’t supposed to be in here making a big mess!” Lulu would have said, probably with some bitterness or some hurt, “But Daddy, I was just trying to clean the tub!” It would have been an unpleasant, separating moment.
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 look for the most positive possible explanation for what they are doing, we can experience teaching moments that are warm and kind and much more impactful than any angry “teaching moment” could be.
General Ideas for Teaching this Month’s Value
Kindness and Gentleness Pact
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 to some “do’s” and some “don’t’s.”
Examples of “Do’s”:
- Be polite — say, “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,”
- Look for chances to extend acts of courtesy and do nice things for people (brainstorm examples).
- Smile and ask, “How are you?” Expect a real answer to the question and listen to it.
- Give compliments – try to give one every day.
Examples of “Don’ts”:
- Don’t yell or raise your voice
- Don’t put other people down or point out what they’re doing wrong.
- Don’t be critical — neither of someone else nor of yourself. (No “I’m so stupid” or “I can’t do anything right.”
Talk at the dinner table each night about how things are going, how people feel, how hard it is to remember, and so on.
Talk about where your child stands in his natural abilities to be kind and friendly
Think together as a couple about what your challenge is with each child. There is nothing quite like the joy one feels after showing kindness to those who really need and appreciate it, whether it be a simple kind deed for a neighbor or kindness on a grander scale. However, kindness and friendliness are never as easy as they sound. Some children show their insecurities by putting other kids down while other shrinking violets and painfully shy children find social interactions really challenging. Others are naturally out-going and like to talk to new people. Some have natural empathy 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. Then think of a few simple things you could encourage each child to do that will be a bit of a stretch but that will be well within his or her ability-range.
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
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 the family are very important, the best friends they will ever have should be their brother or sister (as well as their 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 arguing or calling names in a way that he would not think of doing with a friend, say the word “friend,” which is a code word to remember to be a little more kind. Although it may not always work in the heat of the moment, it will help 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 persecuted, put his arm around him, and say, “Don’t talk that way to one of my best friends.”
* Photo by worradmu at www.freedigitalphotos.net