We have one rule in our house.
But it is more than just a rule, it is a way of living. It is a mindset that I work hard to instill in my children every single day.
It is two simple words. Be Kind.
It covers everything else in life. If you have kindness always on the forefront of your mind you won’t immediately jump to harsh conclusions about the behavior of other people. Being rude is never kind. Hitting your sibling or calling them a name is not kind.
So what does it mean to be kind? What does that look like? It means treating everyone with respect, even when you think they might not deserve it. It means choosing compassion over anger. It means choosing patience when your little brother is telling you a story that is going on and on in endless circles and you really want to get back to texting your friends. It means giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, because you don’t know what they are going through. Plato is attributed with saying, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
When my kids were young I had something I called a Jar Of Kindness. Everyday the jar started out with a set number of jellybeans. Every time the kids were caught being kind to each other I put a jellybean into the jar. Every time they were unkind, I removed a jellybean from the jar. And I may or may not have eaten it, who can remember. Well, except for my kids. I think that they have a running of tab of all the ways they perceive they have been wronged by me over the years.
Anyway, at the end of the day whatever jellybeans were left were divided among the children equally. Yes, there were some days when I cut up a single jellybean. Yes, there were days when it was mostly the fault of one child. Yes, there were occasional cries of, “That’s not fair!” But in a short amount of time something interesting began to happen.
When one of them was lashing out in anger, I noticed others would react with compassion, trying to figure out what the core of the problem was. I noticed them listening to each other more. Maybe at first they were only interested and motivated by the candy, but eventually kindness beget kindness. They discovered that it is difficult to be angry with people who are being nice and understanding. I saw over and over again how a situation that could have escalated was diffused by being kind.
This applies even more so for parents, I think. How many of us respond in anger to our children when a little bit of compassion and empathy would be the better choice? How many times do we feel stressed and pass that along to our kids? How many times do we simply react without actually listening to their side?
I came across this post on the Freakonomics blog that is actually a transcript of one of their podcasts. In a nutshell, they point out from an economist’s perspective that all of the studies show that despite what we do for our children, it really doesn’t make much of a difference in the ways that we believe it will. The music lessons, the karate lessons, the early reading programs, basically the things that many of us as parents worry quite a bit about. The studies have shown that the strongest indicator of how your children are going to turn out is to look at yourself; they model our behavior. Smoking, drinking, and how we as parents treat people– those are the things which affect kids the most.
There’s a great Swedish twins study, where … even when you’re in your seventies, whether or not your parents were kind to you stays with you, and you know, identical twins, fraternal twins have similar and quite high levels of agreement on these questions, which is the smoking gun for nurture really mattering. So the way that your kids feels about and remembers you. The quality of the relationship. This is where you really have an effect and where it is very long lasting, it really does last a lifetime.
The teachers at school tell me how kind my children are to their classmates. How one of them always looked out for the special needs kid who sat at the next table. How one of them always went out of their way to make sure everyone was included. How one of them was “caught” by a teacher sticking up for a special needs kid who was being bullied by other kids in the hallway. These are the kind of things that make me the most proud, more than the A’s on tests. Good grades are nice, but good character is even better.
Are my children perfect? Heck no. But at the end of the day I hope they can say that they were kinder than they needed to be to everyone they came into contact with. That they grew up in a home that while not perfect was filled with compassion, love and kindness.
Photo by SweetOnVeg