One afternoon I was shopping with my daughters, who were 5 and 7. As we approached a store's entrance, an older gentleman prepared to exit. The man opened the door, and my daughters saw his action as an invitation to enter.
I took my girls aside for a quick tutorial on doorway etiquette, but the incident got me thinking about how showing consideration doesn't come naturally to children. As I thought about how to develop this character quality in them, I realized that my husband and I would have to notice how our daughters treated others, and even those within our home, so we could intentionally train them.
A fruit of the Spirit
Kindness is a by-product of the Holy Spirit at work in a Christian's life. Galatians 5:22 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness." Each of these characteristics is nurtured in our relationship with God.
Not only is kindness a spiritual gift that God demonstrates, but it is also something that is desperately needed in our world. In his book, Love Kindness, Biola University president Barry Corey writes, "The greatest leadership influence lies ahead for those who walk the way of kindness in an increasingly fragmented and skeptical society. It's a path that will help us to be stronger leaders, more winsome neighbors, healthier husbands, better mothers, truer friends, more effective bosses and faithful disciples."
Kindness at home
While I may initially think of kindness as something I teach my children to show people we meet, I've discovered that many of these lessons happen at home. For example, one of my daughters is messy and the other is neat. This difference in personality causes friction at times.
We have had to help the one with tidy tendencies to soften her heart and eyes to see ways where she can help her sister, such as helping her pick up or gently reminding her to put away some of her belongings. The messier sister has to take notice that her sister resides in the same space and make a daily effort to put her things away in order to be considerate of her sister.
The more we discuss the ways they can help each other in their weaker areas, the more accepting they become of the differences that make them unique. As we've sought to help our daughters grow in kindness, here are two ways we've reinforced this fruit of the Spirit.
Modeling. Jesus modeled kindness in the way He treated the woman at the well. I have learned to show others respect from His example. My girls may initially learn to be kind to others through my actions.
Recently I had a painful cluster headache and nausea. My husband, Victor, came home from work, only to run out a few moments later to grab dinner for us. He did the inconvenient with kindness toward our girls and me. As the girls see my husband and me helping each other kindly, they begin to mimic this behavior.
Cultivate kindness. It's naive to think our children will develop consideration for others on their own. So my family volunteers at a local homeless shelter. Before we became regular servers, the girls had not been around the homeless. This weekly experience helps them see that all people can be treated with human dignity and respect.
Our girls have learned that showing kindness can push them out of their comfort zone. For a short time, my daughters and I baby-sat for a mom we met at the shelter as she pursued employment. They discovered that kindness requires that we make room for all kinds of people in our lives.
Actions. When my oldest daughter entered second grade, she attended a public school for the first time. We wondered how she would do in this new environment and were delighted to learn that our daughter had befriended a young girl who had a hard time making friends with the other students. The two girls were different. My daughter is African-American, and her friend is Caucasian. My daughter comes from a two-parent family, while her new friend is being raised by her mother.
When the school had a bake sale and allowed children to purchase treats, I was touched to see that my daughter brought additional money from her piggy bank to make sure her new friend would not miss out on the bake sale. Seeing her taking initiative to show kindness confirmed that our efforts at home were paying off. As my daughters continue to grow and develop, my desire is that they will freely exude God's loving-kindness to all who cross their paths.