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…