My husband and I are not great at teaching discipline. We’re also not great at schedules. We don’t have a good routine, our kids don’t always brush their teeth, and sometimes they wear the same underwear two days in a row. We also eat cereal for dinner about twice a week.
Even though I have a lot of knowledge about childhood behavior, I’m far from a parenting guru.
There happens to be one area of our parenting that we actually excel at. We don’t pride ourselves in it, but when I look at our kids, I see that it’s an area where we don’t struggle to make it happen. It’s not difficult for us to teach.
Our kids are really, really kind.
They’re not just kind on the surface (good manners, share when people are looking, act great in public); they’re actually kind deep down in their bones. And I don’t think it’s a random coincidence.
While neither my husband nor I value physical appearance much (not even professionalism), we do VERY MUCH value kindness and servanthood. Our kids have seen that modeled nearly every moment of every day since they were born. We don’t always brush our hair or clean our counters, but we do always take care of people.
For kids to be able to witness that is really important.
Here’s the thing, though. We don’t expect kindness for the sake of looking the part (whatever that part may be). We literally REQUIRE our kids to tell us why their actions are important and what will happen if they make the opposite choice. We never, ever budge on that.
Yes, we’ve had stand-offs for over an hour with our kids because they gave their sister a mean look and refused to apologize. When I say we don’t budge, I mean it.
We use some phrases so often that our kids repeat them with a miraculous roll of their eyes when they’re mad.
Here are some things we say a lot:
“He is a human being who deserves to be treated like one.”
“Be a leader, not a boss.”
“Use your words instead of your voice.”
“You don’t have to share; you get to share.”
“We don’t play the ‘fair’ game in this house. Equal isn’t fair.”
“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Jealousy steals everyone’s happiness.”
“We never repay evil with evil.”
“How do you think you made her feel just now?”
“We don’t have to like someone’s choices to be kind to them.”
“Don’t tell people what they’ve done wrong. Show them what they could do right.”
“People are more important than things.”
“You don’t get to treat me that way and pretend like you didn’t.”
Those are the ones that come to mind right off the bat. I say those things so often that they come to me in my sleep, and I’m sure my kids have nightmares about me saying them (HA!).
I don’t say any of this to toot our own horns. I only say it to share the way of life that we’ve figured out which encourages thinking from a place of kindness. If you’re looking for advice on how to make your kids smarter, stronger, more disciplined, less lazy, or more independent, we’re not your people.
But if you want kids who are kind, these ideas might help.
It’s not just a list of things you check off. It’s a way of life, if I’m being super cliche. We do kindness from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, even if we’re not doing any other thing.
We don’t make fun of the girl walking down the street. We don’t gripe about the mailman. We don’t complain about our foster daughter’s biological parents in front of her.
Another big aspect of our kindness motto is that apologies should look like this:
1) Tell them what you’re sorry for while you look them in the eyes. Your face and voice matter.
2) Tell them why it was wrong and why you won’t do it again.
3) Tell them what you’ll do next time instead.
4) Ask them for forgiveness.
We don’t catch all four of the steps every time, but they know what the steps are and know when they’re skimping. Right now, our four year old is in the most stubborn phase of her life so trying to get her to apologize the right way is like pulling teeth.
But we’re getting there, and she’ll eventually know that being a Cummings means meeting that expectation.
People are more important than anything else in the world. Our words and actions affect the way people feel, think, and act. If we want our children to change the world, we have to remember that they already WILL, with or without us.
Our job is to teach them how to change it for the better, and that starts with us. It starts with expecting kindness to the people in your own home.