A little kindness goes a long way, I think. I try to model it whenever I can — not just consciously, but because it’s how I’m wired to act — buying a hot cup of chicken soup for a homeless man, supporting a local family in a time of need, donating to charities, smiling at people in the grocery store . . . But it doesn’t always seem to rub off on my kids. Sure, they have their moments when kindness oozes from their bright smiles, but more often than not, I hear them whining in a store to get a toy, or wrestling and punching their way out of sibling conflict at home. I’ve started doubting that modeling kindness would be enough, so I jumped into action to try to prevent my kids from being “those kids” who only care about their own needs, in hopes of them carrying the importance of kindness into their daily lives now and as adults:
Monthly Kindness Projects.
Here is a list of 12 Kindness Projects for you to try throughout the year. Some are more elaborate than others, some are quite simple as many acts of true kindness — like a smile in a grocery store — can be. Only a few have made my boys roll their eyes. They now get excited when I tell them it’s time for our kindness project, especially for the ones where they can see the result. In 2017, I’m hoping to have them come up with their own ideas for our project list as well.
I hope you try some of these, or that these inspire other ideas for you. If they do, please share! I’d love to hear what’s on your list!
- Donate to food bank: Monetary donations are often accepted, but we have typically donated food or cleaning/personal care supplies. In our town, you can do this through the Food Pantry itself, or often through elementary school food drives. Any donation is of course helpful and appreciated, but I try to go beyond the ordinary can of beans to have my kids pick out a few foods they enjoy so they feel good about donating them for other families to enjoy, too.
- Bring flowers to a neighbor: Pick a neighbor — any neighbor! — and surprise them with flowers. A small bouquet from a local florist is nice, but so is a bundle of handpicked wildflowers (or even weeds, if they’re pretty!) will be just as delightful. Leave them on their doorstep with a smiley face on a note, or ring the doorbell and see their smile as they open the door to this colorful surprise.
- Lemonade stand: My sister and I used to have an occasional lemonade stand as kids, and in all honesty, we kept the money we made (keep in mind we charged only $0.05 per cup back then!). These days, it seems so many stands have a greater cause. So when my boys wanted to run their first-ever lemonade stand on a dreadfully hot day this summer, I questioned what they’d do with their money. We ended up raising money to buy a “cheer” present to a friend battling cancer (and I let each son also keep $2 for their hard work). Our neighborhood was so supportive of the cause that we raised significantly more money than the $5-$10 I expected, and were able to buy our friend a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant for her to enjoy a night out once chemo was done and she was feeling good and strong. Whether you raise $1 or $100, having a cause associated with the stand — and one with a concrete benefit at the end (the kids came with me to buy the restaurant gift card and write the note to our friend) — can make a refreshing lemonade a true act of kindness.
- Sponsor a family: Throughout the year, and especially at holiday time, I feel grateful for all we have, but also concerned for families who are struggling. Through my employer’s relationship with the United Way, I have been able to sponsor families to help provide them first-day-of-school supplies and clothing, as well as fulfilling wishes for the holiday season. See if your local United Way chapter has such a program — or maybe through a church or local Y.
- Write letters: Remember the absolute joy of receiving a hand-written note in the mail? I do. I still love it on the rare occasions when it happens. Encourage your kids to write letters and mail them to friends or family far away, or to an elderly relative who will be thrilled with your child reaching out.
- Donate toys to a hospital: Each of my kids, at one point or another, for one reason or another, has been in our local children’s hospital. Each time, they have been thrilled by the act of choosing a toy from the toy basket or toy closet, to cheer them up and wish them well as they were getting ready to go home. All of those toys are donated. Since my kids concretely understand the joy these toys bring, we went shopping and each son chose one present to buy and donate to our local children’s hospital. You can do this any time of year! Just check any guidelines for size and types of toys on your hospital’s website.
- Host a toy drive. For the past five years, my kisd and I have been donating to Toys for Tots. We go to the store with the sole purpose of buying a toy not for us, which sometimes is a struggle for these young kids. I decided to change it up this year and get more kids involved — and therefore more toys to donate and more smiles put on more people’s faces. We hosted an event I called “Cupcakes and Kindness.” To participate, each child had to bring a toy to donate to Toys for Tots, After putting their toy in the donation bin, we all decorated cupcakes to take home and enjoy. It was a little bit of mayhem and a lot of fun, and we donated almost 20 toys!
- Offer to do a neighbor’s yard work: I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where neighbors help neighbors. It’s not uncommon for someone to snow-blow someone else’s sidewalk or rake/blow leaves off of half of their yard. As my kids get older, I hope they proactively adopt this as one of their acts of kindess. They love to be outside, so they might as well spend some of their outside time helping a neighbor.
- Bring a sweet treat to a neighbor: Baking brownies? Make some extra and bring them down the street. Whether the recipient eats them or not, they will certainly appreciate that you thought of them.
- Help someone in need: I love this one, because it spans such a wide range of options. Hold the door for someone whose hands are busy carrying many things. Water plants for someone who is away for the week. Help a friend move from one home to another. Help put your baby brother’s shoes on while Mom is packing lunchboxes. Little acts that can go a long way, simple enough to become routine.
- Tell someone what they mean to you: I tell my kids at least every morning and every night that I love them. I greet my friends and family with hugs. I write heartfelt thank-you notes and birthday messages. But how often do I tell someone what they truly mean to me? Not that often. I’m guessing you don’t either. A few years ago, one of my childhood best friends was approaching the end of her three-year battle with cancer. After she gave me a sense that the end of her life on Earth was nearing, I wrote her a raw, honest note about how much and what exactly she means to me, and I sealed it up and sent it. She called when she received it, and we talked about it — about us — about the multi-decade friendship we had from childhood through adulthood. It was, quite possibly, once of the most refreshing, albeit difficult, conversations I’ve ever had with someone. Try it. Hopefully not in a grave situation like this one, but on a sunny day, at a picnic, lean over and tell a friend what you love about them. I bet it will make them smile.
- Give Mom and Dad — no, just Mom — a day off: We haven’t tried this one yet. But I’m really hoping my husband thinks it’s a great idea and plans it with the kids. If you try this one, please, please, please let me know how it goes and whether you actually get time to relax your brain and your body.
Good luck spreading kindness!
The new year is a great time to start!
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