It’s February. Love is in the air. There are also a lot of spitballs flying in our national conversation. This Valentine’s Day, we could all use a dose of some good old-fashioned kindness.
As moms (we’ve got six kiddos between us), and founders of HOMER, the digital learn-to-read program that partners with parents to teach young children to read, we’ve been thinking a lot this season about books and activities that teach kids the importance of kindness, tolerance, empathy and understanding.
Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect holiday for spotlighting kindness and teaching our kids that even the smallest acts of generosity can have an outsized impact on the world.
Here are a few things we’ll be doing with our children over the coming days to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a spirit of kindness:
1. Organize a meal swap with another family: What mom hasn’t had a fantasy of returning home from a busy day to find a gourmet meal spread out on the family table?
Since a personal chef isn’t an option for anyone we know, we’ve taken matters into our own hands. Every month or so, my neighbor and I agree that my family will cook for hers one Sunday and that her family will cook for mine the next.
The kids and I put special care into choosing a recipe, doubling up on the ingredients, and lining our favorite baskets with red and white checked cloths to make the perfect presentation. Sometimes we’ll cut some fresh flowers from the garden.
Then, a little like Red Riding Hood without the threat of the Big Bad Wolf, we carry our baskets, filled with homemade dinner, down the street where our friends receive it with gratitude and joy. The next Sunday, it’s our turn to receive.
2. Create a “Good Deed Jar:” Not so long ago, we read a report in the Harvard Business Review about feedback that cultivates successful employees. It turns out, the perfect ratio of positive to negative feedback in business is similar to the ratio for successful marriages.
For every negative comment, it takes 5 to 6 positive comments to motivate a person to do their best work. We’re pretty sure the same ratio works for kids, so we’ve created a “good deed jar” in our house, in which my husband and I (siblings are welcome to contribute too) write a note of praise when our children do something we think is particularly gracious or thoughtful. Each child has a jar, and at the end of the month, we read off a few of their deeds at the dinner table to celebrate their kindness.
3. Hold a family “thankfulness” round robin: Kids love sharing in circle time at school. Why not implement the same sort of routine at home? Our kids love having the time and place to go around the dinner table and share one thing they are thankful for that day. Nine times out of 10, they find that they’re thankful for the little sister they’ve just kicked in the shin earlier that afternoon.
4. Read books about kindness: Valentine’s Day is all about love, and the best way we can teach our children to show love is through acts of kindness. Our favorite book on the subject is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Reading about the Tree’s love for the little boy opens up a beautiful conversation with slightly older kids about what it means to give of ourselves to others. For younger kids, we’re also pretty partial to Homer’s original story, Nip’s Big Heart, and to The Valentine Contest, our newest story.
5. Be an example of kindness: Our children learn way more from what we do than what we say. In our busy lives, it can often be easy to overlook the little acts of kindness we, as parents, can do at home and in our community to set an example for our kids. Here are just a few things we’ve done lately that our kids have noticed: Greeting my husband when he comes home at night with a compliment about something he helped me with earlier in the week (instead of complaining that he was late or forgot to take out the garbage); offering to pick my daughter’s friend up from school because her mom was working late; volunteering to serve lunch at our local soup kitchen on a Saturday.