By: Rachel Cedar of You Plus 2 Parenting
“Mommy…Mommy….” I could sense his little face close to mine before he even whispered. “Mommy, wake up.” Reluctant to open my eyes on my only sleep-in morning of the week, I pulled the covers over my head in indignation and grumbled something about it being Saturday and to get Daddy if he needed something. “But Mommy…I made you a present…from my heart…” This of course made me rub the sleep out of my eyes and smile in spite of myself. I rolled over to receive his offering.
We do a lot of heart-talking in our family. It’s the way I’ve chosen to teach the boys concepts of kindness, generosity and empathy. Children learn early that the heart symbolizes love, so it made sense to me to use the heart as a visual for where these feelings come from in our bodies. We talk about thinking with our heart before we speak or act, saying nice things to one another from our heart, and when my sons have made a choice that had a negative outcome, I often ask them “Did that choice come from your heart?” Heart-talk is as much a part of our daily discourse as talking about the weather…it’s a normal and familiar concept to my boys—a fact that makes MY heart happy.
Perhaps my penchant for heart-talk comes from the fact that I’m a social worker-acutely tuned to the injustices of the world. Living in New York City, we are exposed to the disparity in our society simply by walking down the streets in our neighborhood. While we are assaulted daily by exhibits of power and privilege, we also see human suffering right in front of our face. It’s extremely important to me that my boys will not be ones to develop a hard outer shell, who learn to steel themselves against these harsh realities.
Instead I want them to know this is our world and that they play a powerful role in having an impact on it— I want for them to see how gestures of human kindness big and small can make a significant difference in someone’s life. My husband and I are committed to modeling kindness knowing that our boys will follow our lead. So we do simple things like stopping in the morning on our way to school to say hello to Kenny, a disabled veteran who sits near our subway stop. We hold doors open for people; we give our seat to someone else in need on the bus. And we do more organized service-oriented acts such as volunteering to deliver food to the elderly. We take Thanksgiving dinner on paper plates to the Christmas tree vendors who live in vans on the street for weeks missing their own home-cooked holiday meal.
We do these things from our heart because we can and we should teach positive regard for others, because it’s part of being a thoughtful, kind person and generous citizen of the world—but equally important, we teach the boys that their actions have meaning. After an act of kindness, I reiterate how good they made someone else feel, knowing that the discovery of their own power to positively affect someone is what will make them want to do it again. Kindness not only feels good to the receiver, but to the giver as well. This too is an important lesson to teach our kids.
When I opened my eyes, Sam shoved a crudely wrapped gift in my face—a mangle of construction paper and tape. “It’s special for you, from my heart because I love you!” he said genuinely. A beautiful pipe cleaner & wooden bead necklace was revealed as I unwrapped my gift…bright and brilliant all twisted together. I loved it, but a mere thank you was not enough in this instance. “Sam thank you so much for this. You made my heart feel so good! I feel so special.” THIS is what our kids need to hear in order to feel motivated to be kind again and again.
As it turns out, Daddy got a pipe cleaner necklace too and we both proudly wore our new accessories all day. Whenever anyone commented on them, Sam proudly shared how he made them for us and we were quick to add how they came straight from his heart.
Rachel is the owner of You Plus 2 Parenting, a parenting support service in NYC. Her work has been on sites such as The Huffington Post, TheTodayShow.com, and NBC.com, and her children’s book "When Mommy Has our Baby" was just published. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Kinder by the Child Project
This unique series of personal stories will take a look at how we teach our children about kindness and why as parents we see the value in leading a life full of generosity and consideration.
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families and design ideas based on our adventures building a home from the ground up.