I personally think most people are convinced that kindness is what they want for themselves, for their families and for their homes, but they are not sure what steps to take to ensure kindness prevails even in the most pressured situations of being in the trenches of parenting, mothering, marriage and life.
Let’s delve a little deeper into the how-to’s of kindness. First, we need to know exactly what kindness is:
The Definition of Kindness:
Kindness, as listed in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is defined as:
1 Affectionate, loving
2A. Of a sympathetic nature: disposed to be helpful and solicitous
2B. Of a gentle nature
As you can see, many times kindness is equated with being helpful or helping someone else. In some religious and spiritual traditions, the notion of doing “charitable acts” is directly correlated with the above definitions of kindness! Kindness, then, is an action that one commits to each and every day!
Mary Ann Kerwin, one of La Leche League’s co-founders had this to say about parenting in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, “Our children teach us much more than we realize. Being a mother has taught me patience, perseverance, self-discipline, and hard work. “(page 170, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding). Kindness, as we can see from the definitions above, also involves the development of being helpful, patient and loving. Part of parenting is perhaps working at becoming a kinder person!
Why Start in Our Homes?
We start in our own homes because we set a tone for our household whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. We start in our own homes because the people we love the most are right there in front of us. We start in our own homes as part of the quiet revolution that good parenting is going to make as a mark upon the next generation of our country’s leaders, innovators and creators. We start because we want our home to be a place of warmth and love and joy for our family and friends. And most of all, we start in our own homes because we want to be the change we want to see in the world. Kindness is a wonderful place to start in setting the tone for our homes.
How Do I Do It?
1. Start with Yourself
If we all agree that kindness can be a foundation for “charitable action” throughout the day, a commitment that we must get up and make each and every day, then we can all conjure up that phrase, “Charity begins at home.” This is essential: that home and with ourselves are where we begin. We can only control our own actions; we must start there.
Here are some quotes to inspire you:
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding points out on page 256 that, “As the baby-child grows, he will need guidance, instruction, and sometimes correction to learn the ways of our world. If the foundation of secure love was laid when he was a baby, and if he sees his parents as kind, polite, and considerate people, he will try to imitate them, because he wants to act in ways that please them (most of the time).”
In the book Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids, author Naomi Drew says, “When we take steps in our daily lives to get along with others, work out conflicts, listen when people speak, communicate respectfully, let go of anger, and respect differences, we affect the world in a positive way. Starting gradually, with ourselves and with the people we are close to, our relationships begin to improve, causing a ripple effect. Before long, we see that by living the skills of peacemaking, we make a positive difference in our own lives and the lives of every person we touch.”
Here are some tips for the road:
· Slow down: As much as you can, slow down. Evaluate how many activities you and your family are participating in. How many times a week do you eat dinner together? Play together?
· Think about a family mission statement: We can slow down by defining our very most important priorities, and realize this may mean giving something up. Naomi Drew asks us to ask ourselves, “What do you believe are the most important things you can do for and with your children in the time you have with them?” “What memories do you want to create for your children?” “What do you want to be able to say about yourself as a parent twenty years from now?” “How do you want your children to view their childhood twenty years from now?”
This is very much akin to writing a personal and family mission statement where you and your partner can really sit down and think, “For us, for our family, what does kindness look like in our home?” This is very much akin to writing a personal and family mission statement where you and your partner can really sit down and think, “For us, for our family, what does kindness look like in our home?” Is it no labeling kinds of words? Is it never raising your voice? Is it being able to be speak kindly even in the face of everyone being a yelling mess? Is is being able to see your spouse or child’s point of view during conflict? Who does your acts of kindness extend to- your animals, the plants on your land, your neighbors? Writing a family mission statement can be a eye-opening experience – it can be surprising to find out what your spouse or partner or children really thinks is incredibly important for the family. Writing a family mission statement can also help you and your family tie your shared values in one place for all to see and refer to
· Focus on the positive aspects of your role as a homemaker and a parent. Try to do this at least ten minutes a day after your children go to sleep or before they wake up. Most of us have no trouble finding our negative traits as parents or the negative things we bring to the role in which we are setting the tone in our homes. Think about your positive qualities, write them down if you have to!
· Balance of all the Needs of All Family Members: Attachment Parenting talks a bit about balance as one of their Eight Ideals. This is something important to consider – what do you need to be the best parent possible? Are you having physical problems that are affecting your patience and gentleness? Do you need to talk to someone about your life’s journey up to this point in order to heal and be a better parent?
Author Naomi Drew says in Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: “Think of your own life. What can you subtract to restore greater balance? What can you add to be kinder to yourself? Remember, being kind to yourself is neither selfish nor frivolous, quite the contrary. Being kind to yourself feeds the well from which you give to others. Acts of kindness toward yourself are necessities that will enable you to be more loving, compassionate, and available to the people you care about the most.” Can you calmly sit down and discuss this with your partner about what both of you need to be kinder people and come up with a plan to make it happen?
· Think about re-framing your thoughts. “Self-control is mind control,” says author Becky Bailey of the book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. “It is being aware of your own thoughts and feelings. By having this awareness, you become the director of your behavior. Lack of self-control turns your life over to other people, events and things as you careen through life on remote control.” Remember, self-discipline on your part means you can teach this to your child; you cannot teach skills you do not possess. More than anything, kindness in the home is a practice.
· Figure out what your irritation points are so you can be in charge of them and they won’t be in charge of you! Is that you are not a morning person and you cannot stand it when you get up and the children start fighting before you have a cup of coffee? Is it your own mother? Is it running errands? What really gets under your skin and how can you come up with a plan to help alleviate the situation? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result, right? Change your strategy to change your result!
· Most of all, remember that you are in charge of YOU. You can change and be the parent and partner you want to be, because you will gain control of yourself first, and be responsible for your own thoughts and actions, and model this for your children. Your family lives what they see in YOU.
Start with your partner or spouse
· Understand the stages of adulthood and marriage: The first thing to realize is that while children go through developmental stages, so do marriages and so do adults. Growing and maturing does not stop at age 21! We hear much talk about “mid-life” crises, but there are whole bodies of works devoted to talking about the cycles of adulthood. Reading and understanding about these cycles may benefit you and your partner with new understanding and compassion for the other person and the most complex of all relationships, marriage.
· Also understand what type of family you are forming – according to Barbara Coloroso’s book “Kids Are Worth It!” this includes the brickwall, jellyfish A and B and the backbone family. There are also other models of family out there, including Linda Budd’s model in the book “Living With the Active Alert Child.” Knowing what kind of family you came from , what your partner came from, and what kind of family you are forming now can help you as you forge a kinder and more peaceful path.
· Re-evaluate your view of conflict. Having a relationship with no conflict at all is not realistic and avoids an opportunity to see the benefits that conflict provides.
· Practice using kind words in your home and making your home a place where you focus on the positive that you see. Practice saying kind things to others as well as yourself – be a good model by showing that you honor yourself!
· Instead of statements that address someone’s character, use statements that describe what you see and how you feel about it. Naomi Drew writes, “When we start from “I”, we take ownership of our feelings and perceptions. “You” places blame on the other person and makes them the brunt of our feelings. “You” puts the other person on the defensive; “I” opens communication.”
· You may investigate Non Violent Communication as a framework takes this even a step further.
· Eliminate sarcasm from your home; when you use sarcasm with your spouse your children see it and hear it.
· Just as you would assume positive intent behind the behavior of your child, assume positive intent for your spouse or partner.
· Model and be “a light” for your family: One wise mother told me on the subject of spouses, “Model what you want to see, but do not nag. Nagging causes rifts and defensive mechanisms and accomplishes nothing.”
· Learn how to handle anger. Can you walk away and regain control? Can you be calm when things are crazy? Can you speak calmly to your partner or spouse about what is bothering you and work it out? Can you be calm as your partner gets upset?
Start with your children
· A very important part of parenting is knowing and understanding childhood development, and what typically happens at what age.
· Understand your child’s specific temperament. Make a sincere effort to accept your child for who they are at every age.
· Avoid labeling your child, even if it is with a label you think is kind.
· You can set clear standards of behavior for your children, but for them to know, you need to decide what those standards are and you need to know how to guide your child toward those standards in a loving way.
Something to inspire you on this subject: “Bear in mind that to say children are equally deserving of dignity and respect does not have to mean that the relationship itself is of equal power. As a parent, you have a broader view and more life experience to draw from, and these are assets you bring to the child as his adult caretaker. You also bear more responsibility for choices surrounding your child than he does.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 11).
The question is, can you set the limit with kindness? Without lecturing, over-explaining or defending yourself, being hostile if your child resists? Can you be matter of fact and have peace about the limit you are setting?
There are many times where explanations just don’t work, particularly for a younger child who does not have logical thought yet as part of their developmental maturation .
Nancy Samalin also brings up another reason why sometimes explanations do not work as she writes in her book, “Loving Your Child Is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works”, “Why don’t explanations work? Because we often give children explanations in an attempt to change their minds and make them agree with us. We hope they’ll buy the explanation and not be angry with us. But after a thousand explanations, children still want what they want as much as they wanted it before. And we just have to deal with not giving them what they want.”
In other words, if we are not careful a detailed explanation is just a justification for our demand.
· Re-evaluate and re-commit to gentle discipline.
Okay, quick! When I say the phrase, “Gentle Discipline” what comes into your mind – the first thing? No censoring! For many of us, gentle discipline equates with permissiveness and the thought of a Kids Gone Wild Video! For others of us, gentle discipline equates with being the parent, who, for lack of better phrasing, is the “valium parent” –you know, the parent who never raises their voice, the parent who is always calm and composed. “Okay, you just pierced your little brother’s nose with a screwdriver in the garage? Okaaaay, maybe next time you should ask before you do that!”
Maybe some of us are sad when we hear this phrase, because we would like to not be yelling at our children, or hitting our children, but we are not sure what other tools we have in our toolbox to use.
What if I told you I see gentle discipline in a completely different light?
Many parents equate discipline to punishment. My Webster’s Dictionary defines discipline some other ways, including as “instruction”; “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character”. I love the idea of discipline being a way to guide or lead a child. There are consequences to the behaviors we choose as individuals, but many times we punish children for being in a developmentally normal state.
Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article, “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine in Spring of 1996, writes: “We actually tend to hit children who are behaving normally. A two year old bites because he doesn’t yet know better ways to deal with problems. A five year old steals crayons at school because five is too young to control the impulse to take what she wants when she wants it. A 10 year old lies about having joined some friends in teasing a newcomer at school, since at this age it’s normal to want social approval more than fairness. It takes many years to learn self-restraint. This is not a crime. And making children feel guilty and bad doesn’t solve the problem. What is called for is help in making retribution, having adults explain why such behavior must be overcome.”
Guiding with loving firmness. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 257 states: “Discipline is a much maligned word, often associated with punishment and deprivation. Yet discipline actually refers to the guidance which we as parents lovingly give our children to help them do the right things for the right reasons- to help them grow into secure, happy, and loving persons able to step out in to the world with confidence in their own ability to succeed in whatever they set out to do.”
So, there is another oft-maligned word that I believe needs to be attached to the idea of discipline as a way to guide a child – and that word is AUTHORITY. Authority is a word that leaves a bad taste in many parents’ mouths. “Authority? We don’t need any of that here! Our home is not a police state!”
Well, when I looked up authority in my Webster’s Dictionary, it said that authority is “a citation from a book or file used in defense or support”, “a decision taken as a precedent”, or finally, “power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior.” Influencing my child’s behavior is part of my job as a parent, but I felt it did not get across everything I wanted to say in this situation. Then I noticed that authority and the word a few entries above, authentic, share the same root. The dictionary says that authentic is “authoritative” and “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to fact of reality: TRUSTWORTHY.”
So, perhaps you could view your path in gentle discipline as a way to authentically guide your child. You, as a trustworthy, authoritative guide.
Truly AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP.
· Using gentle discipline methods and thinking of discipline as guiding and teaching can be helpful in setting a tone for your home that is kind.
“Gentle discipline means, quite simply, placing empathy and respect at the very center of your parenting.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 3).
Here is a recap of some of the tools you can use in gentle discipline:
1. Humor – Lots of parents take parenting very seriously. But you can still think about humor, think about not taking it all quite so seriously. There are many situations where humor can save the day. Humor helps de-escalate things and also models for your child a positive way to look at the sunny side of things and a way to deal with a stressful or frustrating situation.
Many parents say, Save your big reactions for the big things in life! I agree, but in order to do this, you must know what is BIG in your family and to you. This goes back to the first things we talked about, starting with yourself and your spouse or partner to think about what is BIG for you and your family. Then you will know where to use humor, where to be serious, and what things really matter!
2. Distraction – this is a viable tool for all children under 7, and even children that are 7 or 8 can still be fairly distractible. However, this takes creativity in the heat of the moment to think of an appropriate distraction. Distraction is not a bribe; it is a way to change to scene to your advantage.
Distraction can also show itself by changing the environment. Some children just need to be outside when they are upset!
3. Hugs and kisses and being held – solves lots of things without a lot of words. Sometimes you do not need to say much of anything to your child; just holding them lets them know you are there for them.
4. Use of the word “may” – as in, “Little Johnny, you may bring your plate to the counter for me. Thank you!” Be sincere, and this word works well as you set the tone for your own home. Some parents love this, some parents hate this.
6. Limited choices, less words or no words at all –Try just helping your child get into their coat while you sing a song that you usually sing when you go outside. Try just handing your child their toothbrush after their bath instead of a whole book about the necessity of dental hygiene. Children under the age of 7 generally do not do well with verbal words alone; they need your warm and gentle physical presence to follow through on what needs to happen.
7. Consider the value of time-in. Some families have a place where adults and children can sit together until they all calm down, some mothers just have their child sit near them while they do some sort of rhythmical work.
8. Ignoring – yup, you heard me right. The Gesell Institute books routinely recommend turning a blind eye to some of your child’s behaviors if it is not hurting others or themselves (or just driving you plain crazy!).
9. Physical follow-through – If you say something to a small child, you should expect to have to physically help them follow through. You should expect to have to physically hold an upset child if they need it. The physicality of life with a small child is always there – hugs, kisses, a lap to sit on and help to do things as needed. The child’s respect and dignity always needs to be respected, so you need to be calm and gentle when you are following through, but please remember a young child under 7 is probably not going to function well on verbal directives alone.
10. FREEZE! One of the best tools in parenting is learning to take that quick pause in your mind’s eye and ask yourself if what you are about to do is going to help your child be the adult they were meant to be; is it going to escalate or de-escalate the situation, is it going to teach your child something or is it just a moment of anger for you that will pass?
· Understanding anger in parenting and how to deal with it is very important. Vimala McClure, in the book, “The Tao of Motherhood,” has this to say about anger in parenting:
“When you feel angry with your child, know that something rational must be done. State your feelings honestly, then withdraw to process your own emotions and make a plan.
Striking out, either physically or emotionally, may succeed in getting through to the child, but it will also plant the seeds of guilt. Guilt is followed by resentment and bitterness. A victory can therefore end in failure. Too many victories and you will witness the death of your child’s trust.”
You can use “I statements” and talk about how you feel at that moment, you can leave the area for a moment (which is very difficult I think with children under the age of 7), you can make amends when the storm is done. You can “erase” what happened, and start over together.
And besides learning how to deal with our own anger, we must teach our children how to “cool-off.” Some families have a “cool-off” corner where everyone can sit together, some families encourage children to draw their feelings out or do something physical to release the anger. Every family is different and find what works for each individual child through trial and error.
· A rhythm to your day can be your friend, especially when you have small children under the age of 7. If every day has different awake, meal, snack, nap and bedtimes, it can become frustrating when everyone is falling apart, yet you feel like you have not gotten anything done and everyone needed to eat 10 minutes ago. Or conversely, if you have so tight a schedule, then the minute your child doesn’t want to hurry or wants to stop and play, this can be stressful. Try to find the happy medium!
· Learn How to Let Go – Nancy Samalin writes in her book, “Loving Your Child Is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works”: “We readily accept the fact of physical separation but often we forget that a child is not a psychological extension of ourselves, not our possession, not merely a reflection of us.”
As children mature and grow, we have to be willing to let them have more choices and to make mistakes. Nancy Samalin writes, “Our reluctance to let go of our children’s emerging identities comes from our need to have children do things our way, not theirs. If we let them make their own choices, we run the risk of being embarrassed or feeling helpless when they make mistakes. It can be frightening to let a child face the consequences of her own decisions. But in the end she will learn more from the experience of living with her choices than from our nagging, intervening or rescuing.”
Some of this also goes back to knowing and understanding developmental stages. Natural consequences should not be a punishment for a small child (ie, my child who is three does not want to wear a coat in Winter, so I will leave the coat at home – is that a natural consequence or a punishment?) but yet a teenager may need opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. It also goes back to deciding the heart of what is important for you and your family.
Nancy Samalin points out that we can often be hardest on the child who reminds us of ourselves. The less personally you can take the behavior, the more kind you can be. I always say to new mothers of toddlers, It starts off that it is a “good” day if your toddler doesn’t melt down and cry or scream; in later parenting it becomes a good day if you held it together through the melt down or the crying or the screaming. With a child that is older, over seven, you can try to listen more and solve the problem less.
What Happens When Things Are Not Going Well? (Or, The I Really Can’t Do This):
If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you perceive as the negative in your family or in your parenting, the question really becomes what do we do? Here are a few thoughts:
We can try. We set the tone in our home whether we set it unconsciously or consciously. Each day, each moment, we can try to set the tone in our home toward our ideal. It is never too late to change, to try, to stop in the middle of a sentence and do something different. It is never to late to take your child and love them.
We can forgive ourselves for not being perfect. We are not perfect, we are human. We all fall short at times. We can be kind to ourselves and show our children how to have grace when we make a mistake.
We can get help. We can ask for help from our family, our friends, our neighbors. We can get counseling, we can go to support groups like La Leche League or Attachment Parenting International and get support for our parenting, we can talk to the spiritual leaders who speak to our hearts. We can investigate if our physical health is impacting our minds, our patience. Many medical professionals are available to help.
We can take it easy. Maybe this is the day we just need to relax and recharge.
We can focus on bedtime and catch some precious moments to ourselves after the children go to sleep and use that to meditate, pray or engage in spiritual work.
We can do our best to go to sleep; I am convinced many of the challenges mothers are facing could be helped if mothers would go to bed and get some rest. We so often feel we have to satisfy everyone’s needs but our own; our own sleep is paramount to do this!
It is important you can show your family about how to recover from a mistake, a you that shows them we can still do things wrong and make it right, a you that is resilient in the face of life.
Kindness within your home is a process, a journey and a practice. You can form relationships for support from other like-minded parents, you can always also talk to your local La Leche League Leader, Attatchment Parenting International Leader or supportive mental health professionals who can help you brainstorm different ideas regarding kindness and peacemaking in your home. As always, take what works for you and your family from these ideas.