There's an ugly truth you learn when you become a parent: you can't hide anything from your kids. Do you have a habit of eating over the sink? What's your 12-year-old doing right now? Oh, hey, look, eating over the sink. You curse? You yell? You use sarcasm all the livelong day? Anyone who spends 10 minutes with your kids can tell more about you than you ever planned to reveal.
Children model the behavior they see. Does your child grab toys from others, hit his siblings, bite, stomp, punch? Yes, all children explore these behaviors. But if your child is consistently committing the same offenses, step back, and take a good look at the example you're setting.
In other words, if you want to encourage kindness in your children, you're going to have to practice what you preach.
When you lose your temper, do you start to shout? When you argue with your spouse, do you raise your voice? Here's a simple trick: keep your tone respectful. Your words will follow suit. It's hard to remember, so make a point of really focusing on this for a week or so. Over time, your kids will notice, and they will start to copy this behavior, too.
Make it a rule that no one in your house can ask for anything -- a diaper, a pencil, dinner, anything -- without tacking on a "please" at the end of the request. "Change the channel, please." "Pass the salt, please." "Pick up your toys, please." It's automatic -- but it still makes a difference. And whenever someone gives you anything, or does anything for you, say "thank you." Every time. Your kids will follow suit.
Bite back the "I told you so" and work on empathizing with your kids when they make mistakes, hurt themselves, or otherwise stumble in life. Instead of "Well, that's what you get for running," tend to the bruise, or even just offer an, "Ouch! That must have hurt!"
Demonstrate your love directly. Yes, it's love when you tell your kids to take an umbrella, but they hear nagging. So tell them, "I love you" -- in those words -- at least once a day. If it feels unnatural, that's a problem you need to address. Your kids need to hear that you love them. Daily. Repeatedly.
Want to know how your younger child views you? Role play a little. Say, "You're the mommy now. I'm the baby (or big girl, or boy)." Then sit back, and see yourself as your child sees you.
You can also make a point of rewarding kindness. That doesn't mean you have to bribe your kids to be nice to each other, but notice when they are. Your toddlers are sharing? Praise them, and offer to share a treat with them. Your teenage driver offered to take his sister to the mall? Thank him, and give him some gas money.
Kindness is critical. Take the time to foster it in your own home, and know that you're doing your part to create a gentler world.
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