Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Kindness: the second frontier January 5, 2010

Filed under: Authority & obedience,Correction,Sibling interactions,The heart,Training — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 11:28 pm

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to sibling interactions.  The sibling squabbling between my four- and two-year-olds ramped up as fall got underway (reflected in my two posts on sharing, here and here), and I did a bit of management work here and there as situations arose.  By Thanksgiving though, the overall bickering level had definitely worsened.  Some days the two played great together; other days they were continually at each other and I felt like all I did was run interference.

A big part of the problem, I see now, was that I lacked a War on Unkindess mentality. To a certain degree I had internalized the societal mindset that sibling bickering is just part of normal family life to be accepted.  I hadn’t fully grasped that a) it’s possible for young children to treat each other in primarily kind ways, b) parents should expect this to happen and consistently enforce it , and c) moms intent on raising their kids in godliness need to embrace relational kindness as a huge training area.

What changed things for me, as described in my habits post, was that intermittent meanness (which I could write off as ‘normal’) started to solidify through the formation of habit.  It seemed to happen like this: my son would do something mean to his sister – grab her toy or knock down her tower.  Being older and more adept, this was easy for him to do.  She would respond in protest and anger.  He found took pleasure in her angry response and realized the power that he had to irritate her.  This pleasure began to take root in his heart, and he began to intentionally provoke her to elicit her indignant response.  The two kids were never far from me – often they’d be playing in the adjacent family room, sometimes even within sight – but it started happening more frequently.  Hearing the scuffle, I’d turn to see him smiling over her as she cried.  I’d address his misbehavior, discipline him, talk to him, ensure that he understood his sin and asked his sister for forgiveness…  But talk was cheap, and nothing changed.  At its peak it got so that every time I left the room for 60 seconds he’d do something mean.  He kept provoking her intentionally, she kept lashing back, and suddenly there was a root of meanness between them – one I had allowed.

I knew something had to change.  The oldest child sets the tone for the family, and an oldest child who’s mean-spirited can sow meanness like a cancer among all the kids.  (Sure, siblings still love each other in scenarios like this, but an undercurrent of meanness and selfishness runs through the home, even in the middle of Christian families.)  My daughter was already learning about intentional meanness from my son.  I had to immediately reel it in, develop a zero tolerance policy for meanness, and begin actively replacing it with kindness between my children.

Reflecting on it, I realized that familial kindness is the “second frontier” in child training.  The first frontier is children’s acceptance of godly authority – willing obedience.  This has probably been the biggest and most consistent focus of our child training in the year since we began really working toward godliness in childrearing.  But the second frontier is how family members treat each other – whether they are kind and thoughtful, or mean and self-focused.

When one initially embarks on training in obedience, it seems impossible that a child will actually obey a parent willingly on a regular basis.  I believed in theory it could happen when we began, but I couldn’t envision defiance and wilfulness being replaced by submission and obedience.  Through training, consistency, prayer, and high expectations, though- we did make it to respect for parental authority (and resulting familial harmony).  And I think that the same exact thing may be true in the realm of kindness.  My kids’ natural bent is to think of themselves first, act selfish, and be mean to each other a decent among of the time.  I saw this as normal preschooler behavior and had low expectations for their interactions, even as I corrected them.  This went on for months before God stepped in.

Because let’s ask: Is it possible for children to be trained to speak and behave kindly toward each other?  Is is possible for them to consider their siblings before themselves?  Is it possible for the tone and tenor of a household to be one of predominant kindness and tenderheartedness, with only occassional meanness?  I say yes on all counts.  But the battle to get there won’t be easily won. We have a household of sinful natures (including my own) to overcome as we work together in Christ toward selflessness and kindness.

The first thing that had to change, I realized, was how I watched my children.  I’d given them too long a leash; I had trusted them too much.  They weren’t ready yet to be staked that far away from me…  They were still in the earliest stages of kindness training.  I couldn’t afford to continue arriving just after the fact and allowing my son the satisfaction his meanness toward his sister had brought him.  I had to be there at every event as it unfolded to catch it, correct it, and implant kindness-oriented thinking in his mind while all was still in process.  And so I did.  And in the process God encourage me.  Yes, keep at it.  Stay watchful and alert with and for your children and you will find that you – and they – reap fruit from all that is being sown.

So that’s the plan at our house in 2010…


4 Responses to “Kindness: the second frontier”

  1. HEATHER Says:

    I am so happy I found your blog! I was looking up an old post over at Preschoolers and Peace and saw a comment you made. Anyway, I really needed to hear this post! Can you be a little more specific about how you correct the behavior and implant kindness-oriented thinking? I feel like I am talking, talking, talking about “being kind to one another” all day long but I am obviously missing something because I am not seeing a change. Sometimes I put off spanking (my kids are 3,5 & 6) because it doesn’t seem like a seriously enough offense…..but maybe I am being to lenient?! How do you discipline for these words between siblings, “I don’t like you,” “You are a baby-brat,” “I’m taking your toy” (sung in a sing-song voice)…..I could go on but I will stop there. Thanks for listening and (hopefully) responding! 😉

  2. heartpondering Says:

    I am far from an expert on this but would be happy to share my views and what I’m striving to do with my kids. First of all, I share your observation that a mom can talk all day long about this stuff and see no change or improvement happening. There’s a big difference between kids (like adults) knowing right from wrong and DOING right… Talk gets to the knowing but often doesn’t alter the doing.
    The conclusion that I am coming to is that meanness is a very serious offense, and I have to make it a top priority for training. So in my household, yes, intentional meanness does merit correction. My belief is that if I raise the bar and make it a big deal, then kids will see it as the serious offense that I see it as and hence do it less and begin to live out the concepts of kindness, eventually at a habitual level.
    If I were in your shoes, here is what I would do:
    1) Sit the kids down and tell them that there is too much meanness in your house. God doesn’t like it, you don’t like it, and you bet they don’t like it. (Ask them if they like it when another kid is mean to them. Ask them how it feels. Try to draw out communication). Then say from now on there are going to be changes. It is going to become a kinder house. You are going to help them learn how to be kinder to each other. Meanness is going to be replaced with kindness
    2) Explain that no meanness will be permitted. From now on if anyone is mean to another kid they will be disciplined immediately, they will have to apologize to their sibling in a nice voice (make them say it again every time till the voice is right), and (if you feel this is merited) they will need to do something kind for that sibling.
    3) Watch your kids super closely and make this happen EVERY time. Show them you mean business. It will take a lot of time and attention from you for the first 1 – 2 weeks at least so you’ll have to make it a big priority.
    4) (With regard to ‘implanting kind thoughts’, when you catch them being mean and you are addressing them, say something like this:
    “You were thinking about how much you wanted the toy they had. You were only thinking of yourself. Is that kind or mean? How does God feel about selfishness? How would you like if if she did that to you” Then say “You should have been thinking aout how you could share with her – what would have made her happy.”
    5) Utilize some Bibe verses. In 2010 I’m working to memorize 1 verse/month with my kids. For Jan we are doing “God your father is kind; you be kind.” (Lk 6:32, the message.” They are 4 and 2 so this length is perfect for them. I might add in “God our father is kind; how are WE supposed to act?”
    If my kids were the ages of yours I might do a more mature concept like “putting on” bad actions and “putting on” good actions out of Eph 4:22-25. Also “love is not rude” out of 1 Cor 13 is a good one. Also Prv 6:16-19 is great (sections on meanness and brotherly interactions).
    6) Start intentionally building kindness between the kids. Say: “son, please hold the door open for your sister and let her go out first.” Then be sure he does it and say “that was so kind of you! that’s the way to think of others before yourself. I’m so proud of you.” Say: “(daughter), please ask your brother which brownie he would like to eat for dessert. Great job! That was so kind; look how good your brother feels. Next time maybe he’ll ask you for you to choose first.” Be creative with this.
    7) Lastly… and super importantly… Be kind with them. ALl the time. Even in training them in kindness be calm and kind-faced (as much as possible).

    Hope that helps. I do think it can be turned around but only with prayer, vigilance, and a real commitment on your part. If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommed you read the RGT chapter on this at http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ch13.asp

  3. HEATHER Says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I appreciate you being so specific. We will begin “kindness training” in the morning!

  4. Valerie Says:

    Thanks again for letting me quote you, Susan. Here it is…

    I plan on using more of your gems of wisdom in the future … keep them coming! Waiting for news of your baby!

    Hugs from Texas,

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