Generally, even with my sarcastic and teasing nature, I consider myself a nice person. I tip my waiter generously, open doors for moms with strollers, and greet strangers I pass on the street. However, do these actions represent kindness or are they simply social habits? I think of kindness as the idea that we should put careful consideration into how our actions affect others. As the years have passed, I’ve learned consideration is not one of my stronger attributes. I am much more likely to assume I know how an action will affect someone rather than give it careful consideration.
So, how do I explain the idea of kindness to my kids when I struggle with it myself? It’s easy to simply say, “Be nice to your sister,” but how often does that really work? By nature we are selfish, and we look out for ourselves first. Well, I’m stealing the answer from the bulletin board at their elementary school, “Think Before You Act.”
It sounds so simple, but who has time to slow down and actually think?! Now that my kids are elementary-school age, life seems as if it is just a shuffle from one thing to the next. There are so many moments in between all the craziness that could be great lessons for kindness, gratitude, or any other quality that I so desperately want my kids to take into adulthood. Lately, I just feel as if I’m teaching them impatience and frustration. We hurry to get ready for school. We hurry to get ready for soccer. We hurry to get ready for whatever trip we have planned for the weekend.
How do we think before we act when life is so busy? The most obvious answer, of course, is to slow down, but I’m totally rejecting it as unrealistic. As parents, we just have too much going on, and my kids actually enjoy all of the activities they participate in. For our family, the answer has been communication. We talk in the car on the way to school. We talk as we wrestle with shin-guards and cleats. We talk as we take a family hike up Stone Mountain. We talk about why we think certain things happened- good or bad.
Lessons in kindness do not have to be measured by time. Sometimes it just comes down to questions like, “Why do you think that happened?” or “What would you do differently next time?” Not only do I ask my kids these questions, but I also ask myself so they can hear my answers as well. The hope is that they start thinking more about their actions and how their decisions affect others on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.
Now, I have no problem admitting that all this requires so much patience from me when all I want is some quiet time. Wait, I meant to say a lot of quiet time, like so much quiet time! There are so many days when impatience wins, but I think all we can do is try. Sometimes it only takes a moment to ask our child a question that can spark a conversation about kindness (or any other important topic). Hopefully, these moments turn into memories that will shape the minds and hearts of our children.