A number of people have asked me what my secret is to raising Rizwan and Khadija. I don’t mean to brag when I write this, but I’m proud of them and pray that they continue to be a source of pride for me. Read further to learn how I've taught my children to be kinder & more generous.
This is the first time I’ve written this type of article, so please be patient with me as I too develop through this process.
For my first blog post, I’ve chosen to write about kindness, as in my opinion, it is the key to success. Kindness has the ability to change lives. Kindness doesn’t have to be limited to a financial act of kindness. It can be offering a helping hand. Sharing advice. Helping someone progress in their career. Or instilling confidence in someone.
How kindness has personally impacted me
I used to struggle with chemistry. My amazing chemistry teacher would talk to me after class about things I was passionate about. She also shared advice on which college I should attend. Her taking the time out to talk to me made me want to learn more and work harder on my grades. That year I aced my chemistry class and appreciated chemistry for the first time in my life.
My elder siblings’ kindness towards me has also made me the person I am today. They cared for me and treated me like their own child. When it was time for me to get my drivers license (which is extremely expensive in Germany to obtain), my oldest brother and sister told my father “You paid for our license, we will take care of Rabia’s license.” That is only one example of the kindness my siblings have shown towards me.
I’ve always encouraged my children to love each other unconditionally and with all their heart. I tell them to look out for each other and we regularly encourage the children to affirm their love to each other. There can never be too many “I love you” in our house! Growing up I was always the peacemaker in the family and the one who hugged and kissed everyone until they would start to laugh and tell me what a pain I was.
Kindness is good for your health
It is a scientific fact that kindness positively affects your health. Not only are you making someone else happy, but being kind releases dopamine into your body, which is the same chemical that makes you feel good when eating chocolate!
Kindness is infectious
When you are kind to someone, you will notice a change in his or her body language right away. Their face lights up and people feel happier and appreciated. People usually want to repay you in some way. This is when you should ask them to pay it forward instead. That way you are creating a never-ending circle of kindness. Others, who might have witnessed your kindness, may want to do something kind as well. I know some of you might be thinking, “Who has time for that?” Well, being kind shouldn’t be a chore and it doesn’t have to be something elaborate. Something as simple as opening the door for someone, or smiling and greeting someone is also showing kindness. Of course, your kids can’t cook for someone or pay for someone’s coffee but they can help in so many other ways. For example, helping their friends clean up after a play date. Or helping their teachers in class. There are lots of ways to help, and later in the article, I’ll share 9 practical examples you can start today.
Kindness brings us closer
Kindness brings people closer together. I remember my brother in law Abbas telling me “What is it with people wanting to share their life story with you by you just saying “Hello” or “How are you?” to them?” I would take him to the grocery store with me whenever my in-laws would come to visit. Every time I would help someone at the grocery store or say “Hello” he would remark, “Here we go again… now they are going to start telling you their stories and we will be here forever!”
His amused annoyance at this regular event used to make me laugh, as I knew he was right. Some people are lonely and you won’t know until you say something as simple as “Hello” or “How are you?” or even just share a genuine smile. A simple but sincere gesture will trigger emotions or cause someone to open up to you. Growing up my friends used to make fun of me by saying I had friends of all ages and that I had too much time on my hands because I talk and listen to everyone. What I love is that my kids are just as social as I am. They love sharing! They are also great listeners and they love to smile at everyone, which in turn triggers a kind reaction from others.
My mentors in kindness
I’m not here to tell you how to raise your children or to claim that I’m an expert in raising children. Every child is different and so are parents and family dynamics. I’m just trying to share my own experiences and let you know what works for my family and me.
I was very fortunate to be raised by two of the kindest, strongest, honest, loyal and most selfless people I’ve ever met. When my family was persecuted because of their religious beliefs, my father had to leave Pakistan to find work in order to provide for his wife and three little children. He decided to move to Germany – a country he had never been to and whose language he didn’t speak. He had to live without his family for three years. The only way to communicate was by writing letters, which would take three long weeks to deliver. My father’s whole world was his family but to give his children a chance for a better future he left behind the country he knew and the family he loved. If that isn’t selfless…than what is? Learning from my parent’s methods, I was determined from a very young age that I too would instill kindness in my children.
Another example is the kindness of my sister towards her siblings and everyone around her. My sister is legally blind, yet she had made it her life’s mission to help others who were blind find their way around school or to and from the train station. She would take them by the hand and lead them to the train.
Be the example you want your kids to be
To be kind means to be selfless. You can’t be kind if you are selfish. A perfect example of selfless has been my mother. She has always put others before herself. I’m so grateful to her for modeling kindness to us. You can’t lecture your children about kindness unless you live it yourself. I consider myself a kind person. It makes me happy to make others around me happy. There is nothing like making someone else’s day by bringing them their favorite pastry or by cooking them their favorite meal or just by helping them with something they need to be done. Being kind should be something natural, not forced. It shouldn’t be a chore.
How do you instill kindness in your children?
How do you instill kindness in your children? I think talking them through it helps. For example, when Khadija was younger, we would suggest to Rizwan that he should help tie Khadija’s shoes as an act of kindness. In turn, Rizwan would benefit by witnessing his sister’s sincere appreciation that her brother is looking out for her.
Find every opportunity to model kindness, so it becomes natural and reflexive behavior. Point out kindness everywhere you see it. When someone holds the door for you, thank them with a smile and ask your kids to do so as well. Then point out that it was very kind of the person to hold the door.
9 practical ways to teach your kids kindness
- Use your magic words. “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “Please”. These go a long way in making the other person feel appreciated and it teaches you not to take others for granted. When we go out for dinner my kids thank the server every time the server refills their water or the breadbasket. The kids even go the extra mile and tell them “We love the bread! Thank you for refilling it!”
- Apologizing when you are wrong. Admitting you were wrong and apologizing to your kids is also a way to show kindness. This can be hard for parents to do in front of their kids, but it is important to show humility to our kids. I remember getting mad at my son because I thought he wasn’t paying attention. Then I realized it wasn’t him who wasn’t paying attention, it was I. I felt horrible and called him right away to tell him that I was the one who made the mistake and that I was sorry. First, he laughed and then he hugged me and said “It’s okay. I love you, mommy!”
- Take every opportunity to help others. Whenever you see someone needing help, don’t hesitate to jump in and help out. Carrying groceries, cleaning up after play, or picking up something someone dropped are simple opportunities. Once I picked up my son from a play date and his friend’s mother pulled me aside and said “I was so impressed by your son. I asked the boys to help me with the groceries and your son immediately jumped in, and made sure he helped.”
- Help without being judgemental. Try not to judge others who may need your help. Resist the urge to question what is he or she going to do with the money you give. Don’t assume that just because someone is homeless, they are lazy. Places like San Francisco and New York are getting to be so expensive, that even people with jobs can’t afford a regular place to sleep. When we visited New York City, I told my kids that we were going to give money to those who needed help. At the same time, I gave my kids examples why good people might be homeless and that it was not their role to judge. Everything we have isn’t just due to our hard work, but sacrifices by our parents, God’s grace, help from friends & family, and some luck along the way! I told my kids to not to think about what the less fortunate might be doing with the money, but to give generously and leave it up to them and God. Be grateful for having more than we need and to share whatever you can spare.
- Be kind to everyone - No one deserves any more or less kindness based on his or her race, age, status or gender. Don’t ever look down on anyone. Our custodian at our school stopped me the other day and told me “Your children are very kind and respectful! They see me and make sure to greet me. They are always polite!”. Albert Einstein said it best when he said: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
- Show unconditional love to your siblings. It is extremely important to me that my children love each other and look out for each other. Yes, I am blessed that they are so close, but in reality, it required my pushing them. I constantly remind them of small acts of kindness each does for each other.
- “Look at how much Rizwan loves you. He is making sure you are getting ready on time.”
- “Look at how much Khadija loves you. She got a lollipop in school and she asked for a second one specifically for you.”
- “Do you know that when Khadija went out for Pizza today she made sure to only eat half of her pizza because she wanted to save the other half for you. ”
- “Do you know that Rizwan made sure to clean up your room so that when your friends came over, your room wasn’t messy?”
- There are always ways to let your children know how much their sibling cares for them and I think that is what makes them grow closer and appreciate and love each other more.
- Really listen to people. When someone is talking to you, actively listen to them. Let them know that you are paying attention by looking at them. It annoys me when I am trying to talk to someone, but have to repeat myself constantly because they are just not listening. Your kids feel the same. I know it’s not always easy, but stop and listen when your children are talking, because there will come a day when they might stop sharing and then you will wish you had let them share when they were little.
- Be kind, even to those who aren’t kind to you. Sometimes we don’t feel like being kind because we might be annoyed at our sibling, spouse, friend and parents. I tell my kids that it can be hard to be kind to someone, who is not nice to you. However, we can’t change others. We can only control how we act or react. React with kindness even if you are met with anger or someone is being unfair.
- Use allowance as a way to incentivize kindness. Consider giving allowance only if your child can tell you how they were kind today. Check out our entire post on this topic to get specific directions on how to do this.
In conclusion, one of the most important character traits I’ve tried to instill into my kids is the act of being kind. Being kind helps society, and helps the recipient and the giver. The first step to instilling kindness in my children is by walking the walk myself. I can’t control what others do, but I can control myself. And I choose to try to be kind and constantly work at this every day.
Net It Out & Call To Action
- Instilling kindness is one of the most important character traits you can teach your children.
- You have to walk the walk. Lead by example.
- Pick two of the 9 examples above and apply to your life starting today. Two weeks from now, reflect. Has anything changed? Continue to add to the list.