How do you raise children to be compassionate and mission-minded? How do you instill qualities of a servant leader from a young age? What are appropriate ways for children to serve their community? How can you serve together as a family? These are questions I’ve journeyed with the past two years. I’ve found a scriptural road map to raising a generation of world-changers in Micah 6:8: “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I live in the South where we learn to “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir” and “please” and “thank you.” But as anyone who lives here can quickly learn, manners don’t always equal kindness. It’s a good start, but kindness is more than being nice. It’s an orientation of the heart toward the well-being of other people.
Kindness means going out of your way and above and beyond, to make someone feel special, loved, cared for or valued. It’s putting others before self and striving to become more like Jesus to bring beauty, justice, and love to a broken world.
And it’s really hard to do sometimes.
But the Bible says when we live by the Spirit, this fruit will characterize our walk with God. In this post on the What’s in the Bible? blog, we learn more about the Spirit’s role in our ability to show kindness:
“The fruit of kindness is our ability to show empathy for those who are in need or hurting. Kindness is not directly related to niceness, though we often think that the two are synonymous. Being nice means to be agreeable. Being kind refers to acting for the good of another person. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and led by him act for the good of other people, regardless of whether they receive adoration or thanks, because they have experienced the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. Kindness is the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own power and good, while kindness seeks the good of others even at the expense of our own power.” (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).
Among a generation of people who feel entitled and seek to serve themselves above others, how do we raise our kids the Micah 6:8 way — to love kindness?
Here are a few questions and ideas to foster compassion, empathy and kindness in your family.
1. Is it more important to be right or to be kind?
Kids are notorious for truth-telling. It’s hard to teach them when being kind is more important than being right. The best way is to talk consistently about our feelings. Asking, “How does that make you feel?”, can help kids develop empathy and help them understand how to choose their words carefully to avoid hurt feelings.
Share a time with your kids when you chose being right over being kind – or a time that you didn’t, and how that turned out. I once fired off an angry email in response to someone who I thought was treating a friend very unjustly. The truth was she did, but this friend didn’t need me to defend her. I allowed emotion to fuel an action I immediately regretted. Kindness sometimes means killing your pride.
2. How highly do you value kindness in your home?
Mom Megan Jordan, writes for Babble.com: “In our home, we value and teach kindness above intelligence, talent, and responsibility.” Does that seem odd? Placing a priority on kindness may be more important than you think. In a study, 80 percent of young people surveyed felt like their parents were more concerned with their success and happiness than if they’re a caring member of the community.
That doesn’t sound very Christian, does it? Success and happiness aren’t bad, but “what is good” for us is the Micah 6:8 way: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Show your kids how much kindness means to you. Here are two tools: A kindness jar and a free acts of kindness printable pack. Notice, record and reward when your kids show kindness. A great opportunity to do this is March 10, the International Day of Awesomeness (yes, there really is a day for everything). We bought certificates of awesome from Rifle Paper Co. You could make your own and plan to give it to “community heroes” on this day, including teachers or police or volunteers in our neighborhood school. (Speaking of awesome, check out this new book by Kid President for more ideas of showing kindness in practical ways.)
3. How often does kindness get priority in your family?
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., founder of Roots of Action, writes that “human kindness peaks during the holidays.” While Thanksgiving and Christmas are a great time to teach children about showing kindness to others, making kindness a way of life means modeling it consistently and throughout the year.
“Empathy is caught, not taught,” says Mary Gordon, founder and president of Roots of Empathy. There’s a practice element to it. The more you do it and the more often, the better you get at it.
Put in on the family calendar. We schedule events that are important to us, so scheduling intentional times to show kindness can help make it a habit. Pick a day a month or a week and practice and talk about kindness. Hint: Random Acts of Kindness week is Feb. 9-15 and World Kindness Day is Nov. 13, 2015. Prepare to celebrate kindness as a family in a big or small way.
4. Are acts of kindness random and directed toward strangers? Or are they for those we care about most?
Making someone else’s day by paying for the person’s coffee order behind us is fun and makes us feel good. But how often do we make those we love and those we’re closest to feel special?
Create opportunities to show people you love kindness. Most often this can come in the form of showing gentleness in speech and touch, instead of gifts. Acts of service are a great way too. Kids are really good at this, whether it be drawing a picture or offering to help cook. It requires patience to stop and show kindness, like reading the kids a book when we’re busy, but as blogger Amanda White points out, kindness leads to kindness.
The more we show kindness, the more it will be shown to us, and the more our kids will learn it as a way of life. There’s rarely an occurrence when kindness is wasted. Developing it as a habit will help us live with more gratitude and joy and help us show the love of Jesus to others in the process.
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.