| July 31, 2017

How to Exercise Your Kindness Muscle

I don’t know about you, but by the end of summer my kids are at each other’s throats. My older son seems to know every button to push on my younger son to make him explode. My younger son can’t seem to express himself without yelling which ends up sounding like he has a megaphone glued to his lips. I find myself on the edge of tearing every strand of hair out of my head. I try to stay calm, “Breath. Pause,” I remind myself. However, at the end of the summer the Hulk part of my brain seems to be at the controls whereas the Wonder Woman part is completely exhausted. The kindness that I hold with such high regard in my household is slowly disappearing…beginning with me. So, I decided to make a plan. A plan to invite kindness back into my household before the grips of the new school year come upon us.

Recently, I found comfort in William Martin’s incredible book Parent’s Tao Te Ching : “If you want your children to be generous, you must first allow them to be selfish. If you want them to be disciplined you must first allow them to be spontaneous. If you want to be hard-working, you must first allow them to be lazy. This is a subtle distinction and hard to explain to those who criticize you. A quality cannot be fully learned without understanding its opposite.” Phew. So, being mean will actually help my kids and I to be kind? I can get behind this or at least it makes me feel a little better about what is happening in my household. We all have within us light and dark, good and evil. So, hopefully experiencing one extreme will help us to nurture the opposite response. Below are a few steps I took with my family to inspire a little more kindness.

Step 1: Define Kindness

So, what is kindness? If my family had lost touch with what it is, redefining it might be the guiding torch we need back into the world of kindness. According to Michele Borba, author of the book Unselfie , kindness means “You care about other people. Kind people think about another person’s feelings and never expect anything in return. They just treat other people kindly because they want to help make someone’s life better.” I asked my kids what they noticed or thought about this definition and my older son, who is 8, commented that he liked that kindness was something you did without expecting anything in return. I think this part of the definition is helpful too. I find that often times my kids make comments like “I’ll do this for you, if you do that for me.” Kindness is not transactional. Kindness is something you do because it is the right thing to do.

Step 2: Explain that Kindness is like a muscle.

If we want anything to grow and get stronger- we have to practice it. If I want to be a great dancer,
I don’t just wake-up one more and poof I am a good dancer. No way. I have to work at it, I have to
practice it daily and make a commitment to it. Kindness is the same way. In order to bring
kindness back into my household, I needed my kids (and myself) to understand that we have to
practice kindness to make our kindness muscle get bigger and stronger.

Step 3: Pick a way to practice kindness.

Introduce 2 A Day. The 2 A Day challenge comes from Michele Borba’s book Unselfie and asks kids to do two kind things a day. This can be anything from holding a door open for someone, saying thank you or picking up trash. I made a list of ideas with my kids and posted it on the refrigerator to help inspire us.

Celebrate Thoughtful Thursday. Thoughtful Thursday is a day that reminds us we can do random acts of kindness or show gratitude to other people. For example, there are marked down flowers at my supermarket and I noticed that they had some Asian Lilies (my mom’s favorite), so I decided to buy some for her and deliver them to her as a surprise just to tell her that I am grateful for all she does and that I love her. This is just another idea to get kids into the habit of kindness and build that muscle.

Kindness in a Jar. We made a jar that said “be kind” across it and put a bunch of sticky notes next to it. When someone in our family does something kind, we write it on the sticky note and put it in the jar. At the end of the week, we read the kind actions. Right now this a way to celebrate and encourage kindness, however, I have also heard the idea of counting up the number of kindness sticky notes and for each one collecting a quarter. Over time, you will accumulate enough money to donate to a cause that your family feels passionate about helping.

My family and I don’t do any of these perfectly, but they are a great reminder of how we can build our kindness muscle. Some days, when all of these are too much, I just make an effort to recognize
when my kids or husband our being kind. “Wes that was really kind when you shared with Bo,” or “Bo it was kind when you looked me in the eyes when you said sorry.” This at least lets my kids know I see their kindness.

I would love to hear if you tried any of these ideas with your family or what other ideas you have!

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