A friend of mine and I were at the playground and two of the children got into a spat.
“She did this!”
“He started it!”
“It was her fault!”
“Were you being kind?” I asked.
“Yes!” they answered each caught up in their own view.
“Could you have been kinder?”
Sheepish looks, apologies and ” Yes, I could”.
My friend laughed a bit “I might have to borrow that.”
Later I started thinking- how do the children know what kind means?
There are some basics of course for the bigs (hitting is never kind) but Jack doesn’t know that. If you ask him to “be kind” to Bull though he will pet Bull’s head and make his snuggling noise. He clearly has a meaning that he associates with “kind”
It struck me again how much of what we think of when we think of child training starts at the wrong end of the stick. We tell our children to be “kind” or “sweet” or “responsible” and even hold them accountable for not doing or being those things without taking the time to teach them what we mean by those words.
“Kind” has no meaning to our children before we give it one and it takes years of living kindly, teaching kindness and yes, bringing consequences if necessary before we and our children truly develop hearts of kindness that naturally flow into kind actions.
I think there are two main ways that we give kindness meaning:
We live kindly. This one is hard. It’s hard to speak kindly to a whiny Mouse when I’m tired and grumpy myself. It’s hard to deal kindly with yet another stubborn Bull episode especially as they have been happening multiple times a day recently! If we don’t exemplify kindness in speech and action our children will not learn kindness. Included in that living kindly is acknowledging to our children when we have failed to be kind and making amends.
We receive kindness based on the giver’s intent to be kind rather than our desires. When Jack offers me his pacifier I need to take it with a smile and every evidence of enjoyment. I don’t really like it, but it is one of his treasures and he is intending kindness, so I make sucking noises and say “Are you sharing with, Mama? What a kind baby!”. He is encouraged by this to continue being kind and as he grows in discernment he will learn more appropriate gestures.
This reception of kindness includes the relationships between the children. When someone scrapes a knee and Bull brings them his blankie to snuggle, they must thank him. He is responding to their sadness by sharing something that would make him feel better and they need to respect that and receive it gratefully.
Seems like a lot to think about when I write it out this way- but this is one of those things that with practice comes easier. I would say too that this is part of our job as parents and particularly as mothers. We need to be aware that we are shaping souls when we live before and interact with our children and we need to think about the ways that they behave not just in terms of what they do but primarily in terms of how what they do reveals how they think and feel about themselves, others and their calling in the world. Ultimately we are talking about issues of the heart whenever we speak of character for character flows from the heart. We must think about our children, live before our children, pray for them and teach them to pray for and use the grace that they are offered in seeking to live kindly.