Teaching kindness to your children doesn’t have to be difficult, and can even be fun with these tips!
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Kindness. Something we as Christians are called to “clothe” ourselves with (Colossians 3:12); one of the greatest things we can receive; one of the most difficult things to learn to give. And yet, teach it we must, for we are all very familiar with the fact that God has charged us in His Word to “Train up a child in the way he should go“. And we desire to spend time training our children in the ways of the Lord so that, as He has said, “when (they are) old, (they) will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
The question is how. How do we practically implement training in kindness?
A Few Words for Parents
First, the Oxford dictionary defines the process of training as teaching a skill or behavior through “sustained practice and instruction”. Did you catch that? “Sustained practice and instruction.”
No matter which character trait you’re trying to teach, write this on the bathroom mirror or some wall where you will see it every morning and evening. Don’t think that changes are going to happen overnight. Training in any character trait will take time, practice, and patience, and more time, practice, and patience. Do not become discouraged.
Second, one of my favorite quotes by George Herbert says that “prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night”. Not only is this excellent advice on an individual faith level, it is also completely applicable to our task as parents.
Bathe the training of your children in prayer. Bring them, their strengths and failures, as well as your own as parents, before the Lord daily. Do not begin the day until you have asked for the Lord’s assistance, and do not close your eyes in sleep until you have praised Him for the successes and laid the trials at His feet.
Tips for Teaching Kindness to Your Children
1. Memorize Scripture about Kindness
Since the Bible tells us plainly that “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11), we must trust the fact that having our children hide God’s Word in their heart will make a difference in their actions. The Word of God has power, so allow it to work in the heart of your children.
Consider memorizing verses as a family and displaying them somewhere visible in the house. A chalkboard, bulletin board, etc. would be a great idea for displaying the character trait and verses you currently have as your focus.
Be sure to refer to the verses you are memorizing when you are correcting or applauding your children’s behavior. Here are some good ones to start with:
- Mathew 7:12 – “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:15 – “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
- 1 John 3:18 – “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.”
2. Read Stories about Kindness
There’s a reason Jesus chose to teach in parables. Stories can teach a lesson in a very powerful way.
Here are a few to look at:
- “Chrysanthemum” by Keven Henkes
- “The Berenstain Bears Kindness Counts” by Jan and Mike Berenstain
- “If You Plant a Seed” by Kadir Nelson
- “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” by Emily Pearson
- “Buzzle Billy” by Michael P. Waite
One important thing to add is that when books do not specifically mention God or our Christian faith, then bring it in yourself!
The story is a great tool to clearly demonstrate kindness, but we want our children to understand that we love and treat people with kindness because God first loved us and has called us to love others. Get to the heart!
3. Perform Object Lessons
Just as stories can be excellent teaching illustrations, there are some really great visual lessons that you can do as well!
Here are a two that I’ve found very helpful:
** The Wrinkled Heart: Begin by cutting a large heart out of red art paper (the bigger the better!). In the center of the heart, write the poem “Before you speak, think and be smart. It’s hard to fix a broken heart”. Read the story of “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes. Take out the heart and point out that at the beginning of the story, Chrysanthemum’s heart was like the paper one – unharmed. Discuss how she felt when the kids at school made fun of her name. Quickly crumple the heart into a ball. Carefully unroll the the heart to show the paper covered in wrinkles. Ask your kids if you can take the wrinkles away and make the heart as smooth as before. Our words can have a powerful impact on people. And when we hurt someone with our words, it actually damages their heart and how they feel. And that is hard to fix.
(I do not have an original source for this activity. I saw it several places when I was teaching kindergarten.)
**Kindness Ripples: This is a great illustration for showing the power of kindness, no matter how big or small. Fill a sink with water. Drop an object like a medium size rock in the water. Point out the way the water ripples when it hits the water. If the rock were an act of kindness, think of the ripples as the things that kindness produces. Kindness can make people feel good, want them to be kind too, etc. It makes a difference. Next, task your children with testing whether there is an object too small to make a ripple (i.e., whether there is an act of kindness that is too small to matter or make a difference). See what they come up with (find some things as small as paper clips, toothpicks, or even a sprinkle as well). Drop each object they find one-by-one and take note of the ripples. Describe the larger objects as “bigger” acts of kindness (like helping a neighbor water their flowers). As you get to the smaller objects, ask if they think they’re getting too small to make ripples. Point out that every act of kindness, no matter how small (like holding open a door or letting someone have a turn before you), is important and has an impact on others.
(This activity was originally found at Pennies of Time.)
4. Practice Kindness
It might sound obvious, but often it’s the simplest ideas that need to be practiced the most in order to become learned.
Here are some “small” ways to practice kindness in your home:
- Turn arguments and inappropriate responses into opportunities to demonstrate kindness. Give examples in those moments of what kindness would look like.
- Challenge your kids to find unique ways each day to be kind to someone in the family.
- Use family time around the dinner table as an opportunity to reflect on ways kindness was seen or not seen that day, whether by family members or those you encountered during the day. The more your kids are asked to reflect on their behavior choices, the easier it will become to consider their choices in the moment they are tested.
- Pray over the character growth of each family member together, perhaps at the dinner table. Rejoice over the growth together, and encourage each other where each member may have failed. Not only will this model for your kids how they can pray individually, but it lets them see that we do not accomplish such growth on our own.
- Take your family to volunteer at a food pantry, visit at a nursing home, etc. Get your kids used to the idea of serving others and giving up their time to do a kindness for someone else.
5. Make a “Kindness Counts” Graph
To get your kids really thinking about the concept of kindness, start a graph to track all the ways they see examples of kindness throughout the days or weeks that you’re focusing on kindness. They can even find examples in books they’re reading, movies they watch, interactions with others, etc.
Each time they notice an act of kindness, they can grab a square, write the next number that you’re up to, and hang it up. You could try to get the squares to wrap in a line around the room, or do a tower and see how close to the ceiling you can get.
If they’re excited about noticing kindness, they will also start to get excited about showing kindness themselves.
(Freebie – Grab this “Kindness Counts” Graph to start counting the acts of kindness you see. The squares of the first pages have the numbers started for you; print/copy the last as needed to continue the squares. Consider printing on colored paper as well for a better visual effect!)
6. Show Christ to the World
Make sure your children understand that kindness is about more than “feeling good”. We show Christ to the world when we are kind to others.
The Bible tells us to be like “lights” in a dark world. When we show kindness, we let light shine in darkness. You can even demonstrate the effect by going into a room, turning out the lights, and seeing what a candle, flashlight, etc. does to the darkness. When we are kind, people see it, and it’s like they’re seeing Jesus and how He loves us.
A Recap Before You Go On Your Way
For us as parents:
1. Remember that progress in character growth takes time, practice and patience!
2. Begin and end the day in prayer over the triumphs and successes.
With your kids:
1. Memorize Scripture about kindness – display and use them when you discuss kindness with your children.
2. Read stories to show powerful lessons about kindness.
3. Perform object lessons about kindness
4. Practice kindness in small ways – talk through what kindness would look like in different situations, look for ways to be kind to family members, pray together, find ways to volunteer and serve others.
5. Count the kindness that you see around you by making a kindness graph.
6. Let your light shine in the darkness and show Christ to the world.
I pray you were encouraged by what you read here! Let’s lift each other up in prayer even now as we undertake the important task of training our children in Godly character!
Michelle Jansma is one half of the mother-daughter team at Keepsake Curriculum. She and her mom, Cindy, desire to help parents raise up a faithful generation. Children are a keepsake entrusted by God, and if we are to “keep” the next generation, we need intentional parenting. It’s the goal of Keepsake Curriculum to have academic and spiritual training come together in that task. Michelle taught kindergarten at a Christian school for five years before having the blessing of becoming a mother. When her son was born, she joined Cindy at Keepsake Curriculum. She is currently expecting her second child. Cindy homeschooled her five children over a span of fifteen years and is the proud grandmother of four (soon to be 6!) grandchildren. Cindy now has the privilege of helping to homeschool her grandchildren!