Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
You may recall that I started a blog series for grandparents about helping their grandchildren develop the fruits of the spirit.
This month, I’d like to talk to you about reinforcing the fruits of kindness, goodness, and gentleness in your grandchildren as they anticipate reconnecting with many old and new friends at school.
When I think about kindness, goodness, and gentleness, I am reminded that these fruits of the spirit are those that we need to develop in order to engage with others in a healthy way.
Unfortunately, our grandchildren are often witnesses to some very uncivil forms of communication, fueled by text messages and social media exchanges that often include profanity, name-calling, and bold statements that are intended to be provocative and stir up controversy.
Therefore, as grandparents, we need to show our grandchildren how to communicate with kindness, goodness, and gentleness.
Let’s review some general principles that are good to model and talk about for all ages of grandchildren.
1. Friendly Greetings and Gratitude
Begin with friendly greetings and make a statement of gratitude, i.e., for younger grandchildren, you might say, “How’s my little pumpkin? Spending time with you is the best part of my day.” For an older child, you could say, “It’s so good to see you again. Thanks for inviting me to hang out (or if online, chat) with you today.”
Seeing you do this will set a tone for their first encounters with new friends or reconnections with old friends. If our grandkids greet us with a complaint when they come to visit, their parents, or we, tell them to go back outside and think of a better way to greet us.
If there is rudeness on the phone or online, I might kindly say, “It sounds like this might not be the best time to talk. Let’s connect later.” On the other hand, if grandkids are kind, we should reply with, “Well thanks so much for the nice greeting.”
2. Open-Ended Questions
When you are curious about what is going on in a grandchild’s life, instead of asking the who, what, when, where, and why questions, say something like, “Tell me what you’ve been doing lately” or “How have you been?” The former can make kids feel as if they are being interrogated, tend to require a specific answer, and may make them feel a little defensive.
By contrast, the latter comments invite them to choose how to answer and to feel less on the “hot seat”. When they follow your lead and engage with friends in a kind, good, and gentle way, they will be perceived as friendlier than peers who barge in with lots of questions that demand answers.
3. Please and Thank You
Model over and over and over again, saying “please” and “thank you”. When kids remember to say those words, say, “Thanks for remembering to say please” and “thanks for remembering to say thank you.”
It’s not uncommon for young children to learn this concept and use it often but then forget it as they get older. So, you have to keep reminding kids to use those words as they get into middle school and high school. Teachers and other adults feel respected by kids who use these words.
4. Kind Responses
Teach your grandchildren to give others the benefit of the doubt and to practice empathy and goodness before judgment.
So, if someone makes a rude comment to them (often a sibling) and you hear a typical response from them such as “What a brat!” you might reply by reminding them that they don’t really know why that person responded rudely. I will usually say something like, “Well, we don’t know why she responded that way. Maybe she’s not aware of how she came across or maybe she’s had a bad day.”
If it’s a sibling who made the comment, it’s a good idea to help both kids find a better and kinder way to say what each one of them said, i.e. “Janelle, you seem upset but do you think there might have been a better way to say that?” “Samuel, your response was sort of rude too. How could you respond differently?”
5. Appropriate Energy Levels
There’s a place for good, clean fun where people are loud and physically active- maybe even aggressive- but grandkids need help to learn when and where raucous activities should take place. At the same time, they need to be aware of the times and places where they need to be quiet, polite, and gentle.
In my family, when we are together with our children and grandchildren, we try to plan activities that are intended to be competitive and fun as well as those that are set up to be a softer, gentler experience.
You can apply this idea in a number of ways. For instance, you can cheer your grandchildren on to victory in a sporting event but sit quietly together at church. You could also play a game together when chatting online and have some fun, lively competition. Later, you might want to have a quiet, calm discussion about their plans for the future.
Remember that modeling kindness, goodness and gentleness is the most likely way your grandchildren will learn these fruits of the spirit. Like it or not, our children and grandchildren learn more from what they see us do than from what we tell them to do.