I had my first baby – a beautiful, brown-eyed girl – when I was barely 21. By the time I was 28, I had four little ones and I was a full-time mother. The demands on my heart, my body, and my mind were overwhelming and I needed a path through motherhood which allowed me to give deeply to my children while not losing me. I was struggling with anger, resentment, and exhaustion and I didn’t want to live frazzled and upset all the time. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t doing any wonders for me, my kids, or my marriage, either.
Things started to change when I moved away from being reactionary and stopped letting my emotions decide how I would respond to the things going on around me. Things changed when I began to choose kindness over and over; when I started making kindness the important starting point of all of my actions, I became:
- Kinder at Heart
- Kinder in Body Language
- Kinder in Words
- Kinder in Everyday Actions
- Kinder to Myself
It’s has been quite the journey. I’ve both done well and failed miserably. But I believe this is the mystery of human existence. We don’t get to do it perfectly; we get to do our very best.
Kindness is an Action
Kindness is an action. It’s an action toward another person that is full of patience, gentleness, and sympathy. It’s affectionate and full of love. Kindhearted Parenting is a style of parenting that uses the action of kindness as the starting point of parenting. Another way to think about kindhearted parenting is to understand that it is the choice to use patience, gentleness, sympathy, affection, and love when making your parenting decisions.
When I look back over my journey, I have no regrets. My decision to change from reactionary parenting to using kindness strategically brought incredible benefit to my life and to the life of my family. Allowing kindness to lead has created a joyful, peaceful family environment. We have strong bonds and fierce loyalty. We enjoy each other, respect each other, and believe we are the lucky participants in each other’s story.
But how do we become kind parents? Where do we start? I’ve created a list, beginners steps sort of list, that helps establish a starting point for using kindness in your everyday actions. Most are broad topics, while some day to day ideas are listed, too.
5 Ways to be a Kindhearted Parent
1. Kind in words: People in influential positions (community leaders, teachers, famous people, the pope, a pastor, a coach, etc.) should use their words carefully because their position gives their words more value as people (especially kids) listen. It’s the nature of having an admired or influential role. It’s important to realize you, as a parent, are the first influential figure in your kids life. Your words and how you say them have an affect on your children. A good way to start being kinder in the way you speak is to take time to listen and consider how you speak to your children. What type of words and tone do you use when you talk? What are you communicating? Ultimately, we want our words to communicate good things to our kids about their life, their surroundings, and them. We want to be a safe place so they can have every advantage of growing strong mentally and personally. Being a safe space starts with how we speak to them.
When you’re speaking to your child, consider a few things: do your words communicate love, are they patient, are they full of affection? Challenge yourself to change the tone you use by speaking softer or not as rushed. Practice listening and considering your older child’s words before answering. Use words that are affirming such as “I love you,” “I’m so glad you’re my kiddo,” and “I know you are capable of pushing through this challenge you are facing.”
2. Kind in body language: Body language has everything to do with communication. We communicate almost all of our thoughts and feelings with our body before any words are said. Even young children pick up on body language although they might not be aware or able to communicate their impressions. Remember the idea of kindhearted parenting is to put kindness into action by incorporating things like affection, patience, and gentleness.
To add kindness to your body language you can smile while listening, get down on a young child’s level so you’re eye to eye, and keep your body relaxed. When older kids talk to you don’t sigh or make frustrated noises as they are speaking, learn different listening styles, and try not to frown.
I think one of the most important gifts you can give a teenager is learning to listen fully to what they are saying when they speak before answering them. Don’t let your mind wander while they are speaking or formulate your response before they have finished. Instead, listen to their words, watch their facial expressions, and pause before speaking to make sure they have finished saying everything they need or want to say.
3. Kind in everyday actions: A big part of the Kindhearted Parenting method is to look for ways to use the different techniques we talk about in everyday ways. For instance, you use kindness when you let your face and words express a happy willingness to help your child. You use kindness when you take a little longer to play together because your child is asking. You use kindness when you make the decision to relax your body and voice when correcting their behavior. You use kindness when you pick up their favorite snack while at the store while out running errands, make their favorite dinner, or greet your baby with a smile after their nap time. There are a million ways to add important qualities like patience, love, and empathy to your everyday activities.
4.Kind at heart: One mistake people make is to assume kindness is weakness. Being kind isn’t a weakness and it isn’t simply being “nice” outwardly while hiding your true feelings. The idea of being kind isn’t the same as letting someone (or your kids) walk all over you – in fact if they are walking all over you, you’re doing something wrong.
Kindness requires a strength of character that is often overlooked. It’s the habit of letting kindness in all its depth work itself into your heart and thoughts. You can’t be kind to your kids without being kind to yourself through personal growth and development. Kindness must start on the inside at the very core of who we are.
Sometimes being kind doesn’t feel nice – like when you have to discipline a child, say no to a candy bar before dinner or ask that homework is finished before watching a show. Kindness takes energy and persistence to cultivate in your life and in the life of your family.
5.Kind to myself: Kindhearted Parenting is also learning to be kind to ourselves as we parent. Parenting is an extraordinarily tough task. It requires us to engage on a deep level with another human being and guide them forward on their own unique path. This is not a simple task to take on each day. Some people are naturally geared toward the ins and outs of parenting while others are not. Each parent feels challenged and unprepared at some point in their parenting journey. Feeling worn out, angry, or ready to give up is common at times.
We shouldn’t be learning to be lead each only with kindness toward our kids, but also toward ourselves. It took me a long time to get the hang of kindness toward me and how it worked within the framework of family but I am so glad I took the time to learn. When you feel overwhelmed or have a desire to run away, you’re actually experiencing burnout. The job of a caretaker – this includes parenting – is demanding. If we don’t take daily steps to care for ourselves we will begin to reach our max effort. Caring regularly for yourself means you have know the tools you need to repair your fatigue and burnout. This is so incredibly helpful as you stay the course and finish the job of raising children strong.
A Rewarding Way
I think one of the most rewarding parts of parenting this way is watching my kids take on these values and incorporate them into their everyday actions. When one of my kids is genuinely kind to one of their siblings and takes the time to pay attention to them and put them first, it brings me a lot of joy. When one of my kids engages me in conversation and listens to me and asks interesting questions about my day, I’m surprised family gets to be so sweet.
Research shows being kind to another human being does so much for our mental health. Kindness breeds feelings of contentment and joy. It encourages others to “pay it forward” by being kind to the next person they see. Kindness, thankfulness, smiling, and more each contribute to the upward movement of the hearts around us. Including kindness in your daily life will increase feelings of joy – a worthy goal by any standard.