Building Kindness

Question to Ask Your Child This School Year

School starts this week here in Palm Beach County and with that comes the inevitable after-school question: “How was school today?” If your kids are like most kids, you receive a less than detailed answer. A grunt, “Fine,” “Good,” “Okay,” or, my personal favorite, “I don’t know.” You follow up with, “What did you do today?” and the answer is always (say it with me) “NOTHING.”

So I’d like to propose a new question. This one won’t fill you in on all of the details of your child’s day, but, personally, I think it both teaches and yields more important information.

Ready? Here it is: Who were you kind to today?

This question first entered our household a few months ago when Charlee came home complaining about a new kid in her class. Apparently Matthew (name changed to protect the innocent) cried when his mommy left, didn’t know how to play with the blocks correctly, and followed her around on the playground. As I listened to her gripe about the woes of pre-school, the faces of past students from my classroom teaching years started to float through my mind.

I thought of a sweet first grade girl I had a few years ago. That year I had a student in my class who was prone to massive meltdowns. They could start suddenly, about something as small as his shoe coming untied. This little girl, without fail, would always go to his side and stand by him to comfort him until he felt better. Often, she was the only one who could calm him down.

I thought of a second-grade boy I taught in Colorado. Whenever we took the kids out to recess, he would deliberately round up the kids who were on the “fringes” of things and invite them to join in his game. He never once turned a child down, and sought to make sure everyone was included.

I also thought of kids who did the opposite. Kids who went out of their way to single others out in a mean way, or created drama and gossip, even as early as first grade. Kids who saw another child sitting by themselves, and turned to walk the other way. Kids who rolled their eyes when they were assigned a certain partner that they didn’t like.

As Charlee finished dramatically telling me how Matthew couldn’t even open his snack by himself, I realized that I had in front of me a perfect, teachable moment. Social skills, like kindness, have to be taught and modeled. Kids learn how to behave towards others, and what types of behaviors we value in our families, by what we talk about and how we act.

When I picture Charlee 5, 10, 15 years in the future, I want, and I pray, that she will be the child, the teenager, the adult who goes out of her way to be kind to the person who is on the outskirts. So, I asked her to think about how the little boy might have felt. I asked how she would feel if she was in a new room and didn’t know the rules. Then, I asked her what she could do tomorrow to make him feel better.

The next day I told Charlee that when I picked her up, I was going to ask her about how she was kind to the new little boy. I wasn’t sure if this challenge would actually yield any results, but I figured it was as good a way as any to start the kindness conversation. When I arrived at the classroom door that afternoon, Charlee came running to me and told me excitedly, “I shared a puzzle with Matthew, Mommy! I made him happy!”

From that day on, I have tried to ask Charlee every day about who she was kind to at school. I want her to know, as she continues through pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, that who you are means more in our family than what you achieve.  When we attend parent-teacher conferences in the future, I want to know about what type of classmate and friend my girls are, before I hear about their academic milestones. With all of the bullying, hatred, and divisiveness in our world today, I want to do my part to raise kids who will cross lines and go out of their way to love other people.

Of course I want my kids to be successful in other ways, but my ultimate goal as a parent is for my kids to follow Jesus, and to be like Him to others. Jesus’s command in Matthew, says it pretty clearly, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12 NIV). The golden rule is a great one to start with. Now, believe me when I say that this is definitely not the end-all, be-all to teaching about kindness. Our jobs as parents are never done, and every new class, new sport, new situation, will bring more challenges and more teachable moments. However, this one little question is an easy way to elevate the value of kindness to others, and to make it a daily topic of conversation.

Charlee started a new class this week. On the first day, I reminded her that I was going to ask her who she was kind to when I picked her up. After a few minutes of typical 4-year-old arguing, (“No one is sad in my class because they are all big kids!”), I stopped pushing it. That afternoon, I asked anyway, just to see what she would say. Immediately, her face lit up and she told me about a little girl who “is a new friend and is wearing long sleeves but I don’t know her name.” Charlee continued with her explanation, “She was sitting on the rug and she is a new friend and I didn’t know her so I said hi! And she smiled!”

I know it’s just a little thing, but it warms my mama heart to think of that little girl sitting by herself, and Charlee approaching her to make her feel welcome.

Next up on the list: the value of learning your friends’ names…


p.s. Here’s a parent resource I love about teaching kindness to your kids, and some verses about kindness that you could work on memorizing with your kids!

Celebrating “Lasts”

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the ways that we mark milestones in our kids’ lives. We celebrate their first smile, food, tooth, and word. We take tons of pictures when they first sit up, and try to catch that moment on video when they take that first wobbly step. We might complete baby books each month, or fill school year scrapbooks with “first day” pictures. (Or at least we’ve done it all for the first child. Right? Let’s be real. Sorry Evelyn!)

It’s August, so that means that Pinterest is chock full of “first day of school” ideas right now. Celebrating the firsts is important, and can be a great way to start family traditions, but that’s not what this post is about. Because coupled with every first, usually comes a last. We anticipate and mark and measure every first as our kids grow up, but we often miss the lasts.

For the past year or so, Charlee’s bedtime routine has been thus: three books, two songs, a prayer, and a back rub. Every night the songs have been “He’s got the whole world in His hands”, and “Willoughby Wallaby Woo.” If you are not familiar with “Willoughboy Wallaby Woo,” let me explain this fine piece of song composition to you. (By the way, you can blame Raffi for this).

The lyrics are as follows:

Willoughby Wallaby Woo, an elephant sat on you // Willoughby Wallaby Wee, an elephant sat on me, // (now here is where you insert someone’s name, replacing the first consonant of their name with a /W/) Willoughby Wallaby Warlee, an elephant sat on …..Charlee // Willoughby Wallaby Wevie, an elephant sat on… Evie.

You might be thinking, “Aw, what a cute bedtime ritual!” And you would be right. If that’s where the song ended. However, the song continued with all family members, often friends, and, if we were particularly unlucky that night, pets and stuffed animals. I admit that countless nights at bedtime, I attempted to omit or abbreviate the song. I tried immediate family only. I tried “four people because you’re four!” but nothing worked. It was always a long, drawn-out litany of various people being sat upon by the elephant.

As I started thinking about this topic of lasts, I realized that Charlee hasn’t asked for her songs in a few days. I can’t remember which night was the last night that I sang about that dang elephant, but I can bet I was probably frustrated and singing half heartedly, wishing she would just go to sleep on her own. Looking back, if I had known it was the last night, I would have sung with gusto and even thrown in some extra verses for good measure.

I can’t remember the last time I nursed Evelyn, or the last time she fell asleep on me and I’m not sure when the last time was that Charlee said “polka pocket” instead of “polka dot.” There are lots of lasts like this throughout childhood, pre-teendom, and teenage years that we don’t know are happening until after the fact.

However, there are also “anticipated” lasts. There are natural transition times throughout kids’ lives that we know are coming, and that we can prepare for. This isn’t about mourning the lasts that we miss, it’s about celebrating the lasts that we can anticipate.

This year Charlee will be starting VPK, so last Friday was her last “Mommy Day.” (I don’t work on Fridays, so she has always called it that). Since we won’t have this time together weekly anymore, we planned a special trip to the Children’s Museum, swam in Grandma’s pool, and had a pizza and movie night. I’m still going to miss my time with her, but I’m glad that I got to mark our last Mommy Day in a meaningful way.

Do you have lasts coming up in your life or your kids’ lives that you are dreading? Maybe it’s a last day at home before they start Kindergarten. Or the last day you’ll drive them to school before they start driving themselves. Wherever you are in your parenting journey, it’s normal to be nervous or anxious about transitions. It’s also expected that you will mourn the end of a phase as a new one begins. But take a look at that last, and be thankful that you know it’s coming. And find a way to celebrate it.

What’s this all about?

Hey friends,

Welcome to In This Family!

I’m starting this blog because I want to create a space to talk about family. Real families. Real issues. Real successes and real failures. Real honesty, humor, and hopefully a dose of encouragement.

This is decidedly, most definitely not, a parenting advice blog. My girls are 4 and 16 months. If you want advice on how to remove a barbie from the vacuum, that I can give. Advice on how to make a 4 year old cry? Got it. (Hint: tell her she can’t wear the same Princess Sophia underwear three days in a row).

Here’s what I’ve realized: we all have the power in our homes to define our families. To shape them. To decide what is permissible and what is not. To place value on certain things and not others. We have the ability to stand against what culture says our families will be or should be. We are the gatekeepers of our homes and, as Joshua said to the Israelites, we must choose for ourselves whom we will serve. (Joshua 24:15)

The choice itself might not be the difficult part for you.  After telling the Israelites to choose, Joshua declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The “declaring” part isn’t so hard. I can declare that my kids must sleep past 7 am, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  (Maybe I should go with 6 next time? Or 5?)  Deciding whom we will serve is the first step. Then, we need to intentionally plan how we will do that in our everyday lives.

This is not me telling you what works. This is me, in the trenches with you, trying to come up for air long enough between the piles of laundry, boxes of mac n cheese, and things that need to be done RIGHT NOW MOMMY!! to parent with the end in mind. If I want my kids to be Christ followers, selfless friends, wise consumers of technology, generous givers, confident individuals, creative problem solvers, and to eventually, maybe eat something other than mac n cheese, that starts here.

In this family.