The other day, I was walking home with my kids from school when a boy in my daughter’s class yelled, ”Goodbye” to her. I watched as her little frame looked at him, shrugged and turned away to keep walking. I was shocked. As we continued walking, I asked her why she didn’t wave or respond to the boy, but she just shrugged her shoulders. I don’t think she fully understood what she was doing or why, so I determined to help her have a clear understanding on how our actions affect others.
I helped her comprehend that choosing to be kind to others does not cost us anything. I suggested that the kinder option in her interaction with the boy would have been to wave because things like waving to a classmate, offering to help siblings, letting someone else go first—these things do not cost a thing—so why not do them? I am grateful I was able to be there for this interaction with my daughter and the young boy because it gave me the opportunity to encourage my daughter to be kind. The next time we saw the boy after school, I watched in delight as my daughter waved goodbye when he waved at her while heading home. It doesn’t always happen that way with parenting, so I will take the win!
Here are a few ideas to help your children create habits now that will help them cultivate positive character.
Be Kind to Receive Kindness
How do we raise kids in the way we want them to go? As parents we should be thinking about these questions because it informs how we parent.
Encouraging our children to be kind now will set an example of kindness for their futures. The idea of raising children up in the way they should go through life brings me much joy. What I want for my children is that they would show kindness to all, persevere through times that are hard, do justly, and in all these things have integrity. I want my children to grow into adults who look out for others. However I recognize that if I want that, I need to set an example in my own life so that my children will not only observe, but absorb the sound instruction offered to them.
I want my children to be considerate, so I encourage them to be kind. Just like the story about my daughter and her classmate, I observe the ways my children interact with their friends so that together, we can praise the kindness and correct the hurt.
Be Involved with the World Around You
I want my children to value being just. Therefore, we encourage justice.
What does this look like?
We talk about what is unjust in the world, their classrooms, and home. Our family chooses to serve the poor. We encourage empathy when we encounter people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Additionally we have been a part of marches and rallies that stand up for people's rights. These are just a few ways that we have found to encourage our children to have a heart for justice as they grow up.
You can do the same with your family. Make a list of some issues that you are passionate about. What are topics you think will help your children cultivate empathy as they explore? Then find active ways to get involved with your community. Teach, encourage and be practical.
Giving Up is not an Option
We emphasize the benefits of endurance during hard times to encourage our children to never give up. Currently in our home this looks like persevering through the cleaning up of toys.This may seem menial compared to the “big” things going on in the world, but in our home it matters that children know how to start a play project, and finish it off by cleaning after themselves. Teaching your children to persevere in all things is pivotal for their character development.
Last but not least, it is important to remind our children to live out their lives with integrity. This can be a hard concept for kids to understand, but in our home, we talk about like this: “Integrity is doing the right thing; even when no one is watching.” - C.S. Lewis.
Practically speaking, this means we often ask our children the question, “Would you have done that if mom was standing here?” This is not meant to shame them but to help them grow. Our voice becomes their voice over time and we want them to learn to make wise, kind, and thoughtful decisions. Just like Principle 1, we want core values to be part of all aspects of our children’s lives. This is why we implement these values in our homes. Our little children quickly become young adults, and it is our job to teach them along the way. So, let us remember to raise our kids in the way we want them to go.
Dawn Luecke is a midwestern girl who found herself planted in the heart of Washington D.C. with her husband and 3 children. She once worked as an architect and now uses her creativity, design, and building skills to raise children and grow community in her neighborhood.