As of early July, we have a kindness chart. What’s a kindness chart, you ask? A big old piece of butcher block paper with the word “Kindness” across the top in block letters, filled in some pretty fantastic coloring-in (courtesy of my 3- and 5-year olds). Then my a simple verse, the Message version of Luke 6:36 which says, “God our Father is kind; you be kind.” Then below that, a list of kind activities that the children have done, taped up on a kitchen cabinet next to the table. Every night at dinner we ask if they can remember one kind thing they have done (or their favorite thing, if there’s more than one), or if they can remember a kind thing the other one has done. And up it goes. When the whole paper is full of kindnesses, we’ll read them all out loud and have a kindness celebration.
The kids are amazingly into this chart; it’s become a daily highlight for us in the evenings. I’m actually surprised by how much traction this big, not-especially-pretty list has received. I got the idea when I was sitting at the doctor’s office with my infant earlier late last month. She had her two-month appointment, timed to coincide with the removal of forehead stitches for my three-year old (story for another time). I was sitting in the waiting room feeding the baby after the appointments when a woman with six children, all girls, approached me and sat down to chat. She seemed on a mission to encourage me, surrounded by my brood, since her children were all older than mine and she remembered the challenges of the early years. A very woman, and I surmised by the Bible verse memory flashcards I saw one of her girls holding that she was a believer. As they were heading out the door, one of the littlest girls picked up the flashcards her sister had left behind, and her mother said: “Sweetheart! You did a kindness for your sister, without even being asked!”
It stuck with me, that exchange. The fact that she used the term “a kindness,” noticed it so readily, and so intentionally celebrated that act in her daughter. These were the kinds of concepts I was pondering when I set out to launch my War on Unkindness nearly eighteen months ago… and ones to which I have given too little attention since then. My preschoolers squabble and bicker with regularity, and I’d love to go from dealing with these interactions primarily reactively/correctly to injecting kindness notions proactively, on the other side. This family thought about kindness, talked about kindness, and reinforced kindness – using that word – when they saw it; it was inspiring.
So I got on the Kindness Chart right away, and I have to say, it’s been great. Having it there has injected the concept of kindness into the conversation where I never would have used it before. “Can you do a kindness for me and pick up your baby sister’s burp cloth?” I’ll ask my daughter. Or if my son is clearing the table while his sister’s in the bathroom I’ll say, “Why don’t you clear all of the dishes as a kindness for your sister?”
Of course at this stage, a large incentive to actually carry out the suggested kindness is to get the act written up on the chart, thereby receiving recognition while also moving us closer to the kindness celebration. But so what? As an initial motivator, I think it’s a great way to get us going, and to help us all conceptualize that doing a kindness for a person is a choice we intentionally make. A praiseworthy choice. A Christ-like choice. And talking about it and noticing the individual acts really helps set and reinforce the sort of tone that I – and of course God! – would like to our in my house.