By Brea Schmidt, writer behind the local blog The Thinking Branch. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or visit her website.
I am a mom to three kids aged five and under.
They are three very different kids with very different personalities who handle frustration and social situations differently. It’s a great challenge to determine how to help each of them navigate their world; knowing that what works for one may not work for the other.
But one thing I know is the same: I want them ALL to be kind along the way.
Recently, as we navigated a phase with my little man where he had been using aggressive actions and words when he became upset, kindness became a word we were repeating often as we tried to help him handle his conflicted feelings in a more positive way. The good news? We’ve seen a huge turnaround in him. The better news? It was a great reminder for the whole family.
While no approach is universal and every family and every child is different, here are some things that helped us move toward more kind, peaceful interactions at home….
Using the word “kindness” when disciplining an unkind action.
When my kids are being unkind, it’s my natural instinct to say, “That’s not very nice! Don’t do that.” After a while, I started realizing that the response was not only bringing more negative energy to an already on-edge situation, but it WASN’T encouraging a positive action. Now, instead of telling them what NOT to do, I’ll say, “Try again. Show me how you can use kindness instead.”
The result? It makes them stop and think. Could they use different words? A calmer, more respectful tone? A different action?
The coolest thing is that, after WEEKS of repetition, I’ve seen my little man catch himself right before he’s about to scream at his sister or yank something out her hand when she comes over to try to play with him. Now probably 7 times out of 10 he’ll say, “Please don’t touch my toys. I want to play by myself, please.” We are making progress!
Pointing out when kindness happens to THEM - and talking about how it made them feel.
Here’s a simple example. My daughter is visibly sad because the neighborhood kids are playing and she had no one to play with. A friend in the group sees her, and chooses to come over and play with her.
The discussion will go something like this:
Me: “That was very kind of (friend) to do that for you. How did that make you feel?”
Me: “What will you do the next time you see someone feeling sad in school just like you were?”
Daughter: “Try to do something that will make them feel better like (friend) did.”
The hope is that if she recognizes how it feels to receive kindness, that she will be more aware of situations where she can give it.
At bedtime, talk about how kindness was a part of their day
Sometimes this brings up a cute story about how they shared a toy at school, but sometimes it starts a conversation about how someone may have been unkind to them. Either way - it prompts a KINDNESS discussion that gives me an opportunity to reinforce the importance of not only being kind, but helping them handle situations when someone is unkind to them.
Showing THEM kindness when they are having a bad day
Parenting is HARD. Life can be STRESSFUL. So when one of our kids is having a bad day and acting out, sometimes it wears our patience thin. But - in an effort to be an example of kindness for my kids - one of the things I’ve tried to remember is that just like I have bad days and sometimes say hurtful things, my kids do too. So extending them kindness and empathy every once in a while when they are breaking down… is a way to show them to be kind and empathetic to others if they are having a bad day, too.
Our kids are growing up in a challenging world. I know that I can’t protect them from adversity, but I do know that I can give them the tools to handle it.
And I hope that kindness is the first tool they reach for.
Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and advocate for authentic momming. Her blog, The Thinking Branch, is a community that aims to find authenticity and perspective in discussions about motherhood and daily life. She also owns the Ohio-based family photography business Photography by Brea. When she isn’t writing, photographing or navigating life raising her three young kids, you can usually find her listening to country music or cheering for her favorite sports teams.