Photo by Tamera Reynolds
The chiming clock announced it was time to leave for church, and I was far from ready. Seeing my crazed preparations, my husband offered to iron my clothes for me. Our 3-year-old daughter, the connoisseur of conversation, approached him.
"Are you ironing your shirt, Daddy?" she asked.
"No, I'm ironing Mommy's shirt."
"Oh, did you think it was your shirt?" A small giggle escaped her lips. "That's silly."
"No, I knew it was Mommy's shirt," he said.
A puzzled expression crossed my daughter's face. "Then why are you doing that?"
"Because your mommy is a special person, and I like to help her," he answered.
"Oh," she happily replied, then skipped out of the room. "I'm going to go help my brother."
Be an Example
As our children's first teachers, we know that little eyes keep track of our every move. Even as you complete the most mundane tasks around the house, your kids are watching. Later, you may find your little imitator chattering into a plastic phone, cooking up meals in toy pots or pounding with "tools."
We know that our children imitate not only our actions, but our attitudes. And that can have its downside. We've all had those "Oh no" moments when we hear our children scold their siblings or friends in a tone we know they learned from us. But on the positive side, that same propensity to imitate can serve us well as we try to model, and in turn teach, an attitude of kindness and cheerful servanthood.
We all try to do nice things for our spouses and children. But even more important than what we do is how we act. The difference between "doing things" and "serving others" is a matter of attitude.
Think about the last time you cooked a meal or folded laundry. How did you feel about serving your family in this way? Were you glad to do it or did you feel resentful that you were stuck with this mundane chore? Naturally, none of us has a cheerful servant's heart all day, every day. But if we want our children to willingly reach out to others and show kindness and compassion, it's essential that they see us doing the same.
Make the Connection
To translate your example of servanthood into something your child can start doing intentionally, you'll need to help your child make the connection between action and attitude.
Your always-observant preschooler may seem to be an endless source of questions and curiosity. You can take advantage of her inquisitiveness to teach kindness. When she asks, "What are you doing?" instead of answering "I'm cooking," say, "I'm making dinner for you and Daddy because I love you."
Instead of saying "I'm working on the car," answer, "I'm fixing a problem so our family will be safe." This shows your child that what you do is not as important as the people you're doing it for.
Grab the Moment
Don't limit your service to home. Take your caring attitude wherever you go. Hold the door open for strangers, offer your seat on a crowded bus or help the church nursery teacher clean her room. Whenever possible, encourage your children to do these things as well. Point out how nice it feels to help someone. Later in the day, remind your child how kind it was of him to hold that door or give up that seat. You can even talk about the experience with others?Dad, Grandma, Aunt Cathy?to further reinforce your child's kindness.
To help turn these experiences into true character development, you'll need to spend some time talking about what your child is discovering through his acts of cheerful service. In 7 Things Kids Never Forget (Multnomah), Ron Rose says, "Work with your children on a service project, any kind that helps other people. Take pictures during the project. Then use the pictures to review the time. Ask ?what' questions such as ?What was happening here?' and ?What were the people feeling?' The goal is to focus on a shared experience of caring for other people."
While your child might find plenty of opportunities for showing kindness to people in your community, even the most caring child can struggle to be kind at home. Help your child understand that serving others includes family. Find projects you can do together to help other family members. Have her help you pull weeds in the garden, take out the trash or bake cookies for a special treat. Talk about how special it is to be part of a family and how working together and helping each other make a family stronger. Reward your child with hugs and praise for a job well done.
The Impact of Encouragement
When your kids do show evidence of kindness in their actions toward others, you can reinforce these characteristics through encouragement. In his book Hugs for Mom (Howard Publishing), John William Smith illustrates the importance of encouragement. He says, "Watch your children's backs straighten, their eyes brighten, their work improve, their lives change and their love deepen?all because you have imparted courage to them by your words."
Let your children know their efforts also please God. Look up Colossians 3:23 and read it with them: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." Explain that when we do something kind for others, it makes God glad and shows him how much we love him.
Remember, kind and loving behavior does not come naturally. Be patient with your children as they learn to see the needs of others. Help them learn to serve with a cheerful heart through your own loving attitude. Whether you're ironing shirts or making peanut butter sandwiches, let your children see that your actions are based on love. And before long, you'll see them putting their love into action, too.
Tricia Goyer is a freelance writer, children's church leader and the mother of three. She and her family live in Montana.
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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