Every day before I say goodbye to my kids, I ask them one question – “What are we going to do today?”
The answer, often said in unison, is simple – “Be kind and be respectful.”
It’s a mantra that we have said for years now – nearly since the time my children could talk. We say it because I want to remind them what the expectations are for their behavior. It’s simple because I want them to remember it even when I’m not there.
We started this little recitation with my eldest. As is probably true for most children, it wasn’t easy on either of us when she first went to school. I knew that there would be new temptations and I knew that there would be new influences. I wanted to help her remember how “Team Winter” behaves and I wanted her to know what was important to her mom and dad. There were lots of things that she would be learning at school – some good and some bad – and whatever she learned, I wanted to give her a filter through which to consider it.
I was helped in this endeavor by a wise friend who encouraged me to not make the rules of our house too cumbersome. With little ones a parent is constantly telling them “no” as they learn boundaries and form understandings. If you are constantly saying “no” to new categories of behavior, it is hard for little brains to sort out what it is that they can and can’t do. Instead, if you create a few broad categories that many things can fall into, it helps them learn, remember, and hopefully apply, what they know. We decided on two rules. The first was that they were to be kind. Regardless of what our kids encountered each day, we wanted them to be people who would be quick to show compassion and love. The second was that there were to be respectful. This didn’t mean that they always had to agree with authority, but it did mean that they would show deference to those that God had entrusted with their care.
The beautiful thing about these two, umbrella-like rules, is that many things fall underneath them.
- Are you fighting with your sibling? Don’t do that – it’s not kind.
- Are you putting your shoes on the couch? Please remove them – that’s not respectful of other people’s stuff.
- Are you tempted to lie? That doesn’t show kindness or respect to the person you are talking to.
Time and time again we have been able to employ these two standards to correct and direct our kids’ behavior. The beauty of them is that because they are easy to recall our children always know which way they are to aim. They are clear about the standards, even as they learn the particulars of what those behaviors look like. They know what is expected of them, and are rarely surprised by the corrections they receive.
And sometimes those rules have prompted correction in my own heart as well.