One of the lists of characteristics God wants Christians to have is often referred to as the Fruit of the Spirit. Within that list is the word kindness. Kindness is also mentioned as part of the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In fact, the word kindness or some variation of it is mentioned over forty times in the Bible.
In a world where kindness is increasingly rare, when your children are kind, they will stand out from the world – in a good way. God knows that standing out in good ways from our culture can draw people to Him. Additionally, God expects us to reflect His love to others and kindness is a great way to do that. Since kindness is not the norm, however, you will have to be intentional to teach your kids how to be kind. Thankfully, there are some fun things you can do to make kindness a habit they want to keep in their lives.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Secret acts of kindness. Kids – especially young ones – love the idea of doing something in secret. They will love the idea of seeing how many kind things they can do for others without getting caught. These kind acts don’t even have to cost money. Something simple like moving someone’s newspaper from the street to their door in cold weather can make someone’s day. Doing things in secret also reinforces the scripture about not trumpeting your good deeds to everyone. (Matthew 6:3)
Doing the little things. What if your kids held open the door for everyone who was going into or out of a building for a period of time? Or picked up trash in a park (use safety precautions)? What if they offered to wash dirty dishes or stack chairs after an event at church? Or neatened up a messy display in a store? Those things mean extra effort or work for someone. Having a little extra help that is offered without asking is a true act of kindness. It may not seem as fun on the surface, but you can make it fun by telling your kids to notice the reactions they get. Sharing them later can be a lot of fun!
Hosting a manners party for younger kids. Encourage your kids to be creative as they plan the event. Have attendees dress in costumes, provide fun “high tea” type snacks. When your kids teach younger kids manners, they will be reminding themselves of how they should behave and why manners are such an important part of kindness.
A week/month without. A part of kindness is noticing the needs of others and putting them ahead of your own. (Philippians 2:3-4) Challenge your kids to think of things they could go without for a week. Make it fun, but truly challenging. Sometimes, you may want to focus on excess rather than entire deprivation. For example, your kids can’t run around nude all week, but they can limit themselves to four or five articles of clothing rather than their normal twenty totally unique outfits a week. One family limited themselves to eating meals created only from items already in their home! At the end of each week, discuss how much is too much and how your family can better live out those verses in Philippians.
“Adopt” someone who is lonely. You can choose one person as a family or each family member can choose someone different to “adopt”. Discuss ways the person needs kindness in his or her life. You can let the person know who you are as you do these kind things or keep it a secret. Since this is an “adoption” try to be consistent in your kind acts for a long period of time – preferably six months to a year. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also teach your kids that sometimes kindness takes effort and needs to continue for a lifetime – not just done once in awhile.
Have fun with it. The more you do some of these things with your kids, the more likely it is that kindness will become a permanent part of their character.
You’ve been proactive and instead of making the mistake of letting your kids work out conflicts on their own, you’ve actually taught them useful conflict resolution skills. Since it’s easier for your kids to practice using them when they aren’t upset, what are some fun ways to encourage them to practice their skills so they will use them naturally in a real conflict?
Here are some of our favorites.
Mock trials. Whether it’s a person in the Bible or a fairy tale character, mock trials can be a fun way to practice taking turns and stating two sides of an argument clearly and calmly.
Board games. Some games naturally cause more disagreements than others. Look for ones that involve a lot of judgment calls to determine who gets points, etc. When disagreements do occur, make sure to stop play long enough to practice one or more of the conflict resolution skills they are learning.
Debates. While debates are a bit more formal than the average conflict between family members or friends, learning some debate skills can help them practice controlling emotions and making the best points to convince others they are correct. Try fun topics that will engage your kids…perhaps regarding a special interest or passion they share.
Reading or telling stories. The Bible is full of stories of people in conflict. There are also plenty of children’s stories that involve some sort of conflict. As you are reading or telling the story, stop periodically and ask your kids what one of the people should do next to help resolve the conflict. Or have them point out when someone in the story uses poor conflict resolution skills.
Have them teach you. Yes, you were the ones who taught them the skills initially. Call your kids, however, when you and your spouse can’t agree on something. Whether it’s what to have for dinner or what color to paint the den, have them tell you what each of you should do next to avoid getting into an actual argument about it.
Have some fun with it, but give your kids as much practice as possible using their conflict resolution skills. Then when they need them in real life, they will remember them and feel confident using them.
For more information on teaching your kids godly conflict resolution skills, we have a free printable parenting sheet on the topic.
What’s the one piece of consistently bad parenting advice “experts” often give? To let kids figure out how to resolve conflicts on their own. Allow two five year olds to work out a conflict without any adult intervention and I can promise you they won’t be using godly conflict resolution skills. In fact, I often wonder if much of the acting out we see in adult conflicts is a direct result of the lack of intentional instruction most kids have in the area of conflict resolution.
Parents should absolutely intervene in their children’s conflicts. Not to resolve the conflict for their kids, but to begin teaching their kids how to use godly conflict resolution skills. You may be wondering what that looks like with young children who probably won’t respond well to lectures on the steps of godly conflict resolution.
You’re right. A three or four year old isn’t ready for a law school class on dispute resolution or an hour long Bible lesson on the topic. You can, however, begin teaching the youngest of children some basic skill sets that can be built upon in age appropriate ways as they get older.
Use your words. Young children have limited vocabularies. Even the most verbal of three year olds will often find they don’t have the words that make them feel as if they have adequately expressed their frustration in a disagreement or conflict. As a result, they may hit, pinch, bite or kick because those acts of aggression feel as if they match the intensity of their feelings better than their words. Don’t try giving a toddler a twenty minute lecture on the value of using words over biting. Just firmly say “No! We use our words, not our (fists, teeth, etc.).” Later, when the child is calm, you can suggest verbal ways to express their anger that feel better to them. You can even make them funny, as in “I’m so mad I could spit nails!” Sometimes adding that bit of humor can even make them laugh when they are upset. For kids who are still struggling to verbalize anything, try suggesting they growl or roar like a tiger or lion when they are really upset to express their frustration instead of biting, etc.
Recognize a conflict before it escalates. With young children, this will actually be helping them to recognize the signs they are starting to get angry or frustrated. What signs do they notice right before a conflict starts? Perhaps they make a fist or bite their lip. Maybe they have a funny feeling in their stomach or feel like they want to scream. Teaching them metacognition skills – being aware of their thoughts – is helpful when they get a little older. When they are aware they are beginning to think angry thoughts, they are more likely to be able to pull back before saying or doing angry things.
Put yourself in “stop” mode. Conflicts tend to escalate because the people involved start reacting, rather than thinking before they speak or act. Teaching your kids to say “Stop!” when they begin feeling angry or disagree with someone and give themselves a minute or two to think before saying or doing anything can slow or stop escalation. This one will take lots of practice. Try to catch your kids before the arguing starts. When you hear the first signs of disagreement, remind them to stop…until they can do it independently. You can use a timer or if they can count, encourage them to count to a fairly high number before they respond.
What does each party in the dispute really want? After they master the previous steps and are doing them fairly consistently, it’s time to teach them how to frame the conflict. Start by using the “Stop!” time to ask them what they want and what they think the other person wants. As they get older, this should evolve into looking for deeper needs. For example, an argument over a toy may actually be that the child is grumpier than usual because it’s time to eat or because they are actually upset their siblings just take their things without asking first. Solving surface issues while ignoring the deeper roots, is why even adults feel frustrated when a conflict is supposedly resolved. On some level, we realize the deeper issue hasn’t been addressed. As they identify what they think the other person wants, teach them to double check with that person to see if they guessed correctly. Sometimes conflicts aren’t really conflicts as much as they are two people thinking they are having the same conversation when they are actually having two very different ones.
What are our choices? This is the last step before they are probably old enough for more sophisticated conflict resolution lessons. Often, people in conflict think there are only two choices. Generating more options can make it easier to find one both parties find acceptable. This is a step that must be taught after the others are fairly mastered and your kids are a little older. Once they have correctly identified what each party wants, offer to play “personal assistant” and record all of the options they can think of to solve the dispute. They can be serious or silly. The more options they can think of, the easier it will probably be to find one they can both accept. Then help them learn how to talk through their options and come to a consensus on the best one.
Start teaching your kids godly conflict resolution skills as toddlers and preschoolers. You may just find other parents will want to know why your kids seem to get along so well!
Occasionally, I will watch popular shows to get a gauge for the current culture in entertainment – especially content created for kids and teens. I’ve noticed recently a disturbing trend in content that can have an extremely negative impact on young people being raised in Christian homes.
While it’s not new for popular content to subtly or openly mock Christians and their beliefs, this new trend may be more insidious. It seems to be more common on reality type shows, but can be found everywhere. A character or a member of the cast openly and often proudly claims to be a Christian and to value his or her faith. In fact, the person may say his or her faith is one of the most important things in his or her life.
Almost immediately, however, the person engages in what I would term a sin that is obvious to almost anyone with even a passing knowledge of Christian beliefs….like taking all of their clothes off in public, having sex with someone to whom they aren’t married, etc. Or the person will state a belief they have because they are Christians and then do that very thing, but in perhaps less obvious ways – for example, that they don’t believe in lying – but then proceed to detail all of the ways they will lie….but don’t “count” because they aren’t “real” lies.
When your kids are exposed to content like this – or even similar people and ideas in real life – their understanding of who a Christian is and how a Christian lives life becomes skewed. I don’t believe these people are lying when they say they love God, they just don’t know who they are supposed to be as a Christian. So they have become a secular person, living a largely ungodly life, but one who believes in God.
That is not even close to the Christian life God wants for you or your kids. He wants Christians to stand apart from their culture – not partake of it in the same ways as unbelievers. Your kids need you to define for them who a Christian is in real and concrete terms with lots of practical examples. They need to understand, not just the commands of God, but the underlying principles as well. They need to know what God wants them to do as much as they know what God doesn’t want them to do. They need to thoroughly understand they will be different from most people, because that is how they will stand out from the crowd so others know to whom they should go to learn about God and the life He wants for them, too.
Don’t assume because your kids attend Church and Bible classes, that they know any more about who God wants them to be than any other young person in the world. You need to be “quality control” and make sure their understanding of what it means to live a Christian life is thorough and correct. Otherwise, they may end up not living their faith at all.
Paul and the other New Testament writers mention people who are calling themselves Christians, but have agendas that aren’t godly. They also mention at times the various agendas of people who aren’t Christians. In fact, they even admit to having their own agenda – teaching people the Gospel message and helping them get to Heaven.
The writers of the Bible aren’t the only creators of content who have an agenda. In fact every author of an article or book, every screen writer, anyone who creates content has an agenda. Sometimes, the agenda is merely to provide entertainment for others to enjoy. Often, however, those who create content for you and your kids to consume have additional agendas. We don’t always notice them, but they still impact us anyway. Children are especially susceptible to being influenced by these hidden agendas.
Your kids probably understand the Bible and their textbooks are trying to teach them things someone wants them to learn. What they probably don’t realize is that their favorite video game, show, movie or book may also be created by someone who is trying to convince them to believe what the author believes. They also need to understand that whether or not they are aware of these messages, if they hear them often enough, they will start to believe they are true – regardless of whether or not they are. Your kids also need to be aware that often these ideas are not only questionable, but are in direct opposition to what God wants them to believe.
Your kids will need your help recognizing these hidden agendas and messages. They will need to learn how to compare them to the Bible and see if they are ideas they should accept or reject. As your kids consume content, discuss what messages they believe the authors hid in the content. Help them find scriptures that help them know whether they should accept or reject those messages. Teach them how to read between the lines of reviews and summaries to see if they can detect hidden agendas and avoid engaging with content that may increase the likelihood they will become desensitized to sin. Show them sites like pluggedin.com that were created to help Christians understand hidden agendas and messages in creative content so they can make wise decisions about what to consume.
Your kids may need to have several discussions about how false messages can desensitize them to sin and eventually convince them something God has said is sinful is not only okay, but praiseworthy. They will want to engage with the same content their peers are and will need to become strong to make better choices for their faith to stay strong. It won’t be easy, but your kids need you to help them be agenda savvy. It can protect them from having their Christian beliefs constantly undermined by people who have rejected God and His commands.