Kindness Lessons

A Study in Scarlet

How do you teach kindness to a child? I’ve been working on this a lot, and I believe it’s much more processional than singular. It’s more about setting the process in motion than about any singular moment.

We’ve been talking about kindness for a while now because of all the fighting between my two kids, Olive Oil and Tepid Water.  They’re going to demonstrate what kindness lessons look like in our house.

I went to pick them up at the ChildWatch area at the gym, and Olive Oil (my 5-year-old) sat across from some girl, waiting patiently for the red marker this lady was using. This girl (I’ll call her Scarlet, she’s probably 8 or 9) was filling her entire page with red, and she stared intently and unblinkingly at my Olive Oil.

Her eyes bored into my Olive Oil’s soul, saying, “This is mine. And I am the Ultimate Queen of the Ruby Utensils; none may use them without my express say-so.” (I can’t decide if I’m making her a mob boss or a tyrant… stay with me.)

I knew it would to happen, but I couldn’t stop it. “Olive Oil,” I said gently, “it’s time to go.

I almost smacked that smug smile of satisfaction off that Scarlet girl’s face. My poor Olive Oil picked up the pieces of her broken heart and hurled them at Scarlet as her rage and sorrow fought for expression.

“The injustice!!” she screamed (I’m paraphrasing a little here), and her tears ran down her cheeks, splashing onto her shirt, tinting it to a darker shade of purple.  I completely understood. She did everything right. She asked politely, waited patiently, and she still didn’t get a turn. I had to check myself to not judge this girl and compare her to something like, I don’t know, a tyrannical queen of markers…

Olive Oil and Tepid Water got into the car, and the light bulb went off- A Teachable Moment! I knew where we were. I knew what conclusion I wanted them to draw, so my head turned on Morality.Maps and we began our journey on the path of understanding. “I’m sorry you never got to use the red marker,” I said.

Wiping tears from her eyes, she furrowed her brow, “Yeah, she was mean! She was not nice! She’s sandpaper!” (For more info about what sandpaper means, go HERE. You can finish this story first, all you need to know is that being sandpaper is a really bad thing.)

“It didn’t make you feel very good when she didn’t share, did it?” I asked.

“No! She was so mean!”

“So do you think you can share?” I’m hoping the connections are clicking and lesson’s getting through.

“Not with her because she’s mean, and she didn’t share with me!” Um, this is not the lesson destination.


“What should she have done?” I asked.

“She should have shared, but she didn’t because she’s mean and she’s sandpaper.”

“She should have shared; that would have been cottonball. Sharing makes sure everyone has fun. Are you going to be cottonball?”  I think we’re getting there. She knows Scarlet should have shared, and she knows sharing is the right choice…

“No. I’m going to be sandpaper. Next time I’m going to get the red marker first, and I’m going to keep it, and she will NEVER get to use it again. Never ever!” 

Crap. So we’re currently taking a little revenge detour, but we can hopefully get back on track here.


“But that’s not cottonball,” I try to reason with her. “You didn’t like it when she did that to you.”

“She’s mean. I’m going to be sandpaper to her.” Olive Oil’s pretty resolute.

Rerouting… again. Traffic delays expected.

“Okay, she should have been more cottonball. We like it when others are cottonball to us, right?” I’m trying to back in from another vantage point.

“Yes,” Olive Oil says, her poor, red, splotchy face looks at me.

“And we should do to others as we would have them do to us, right?”


“So we’ll be cottonball to other people and share, right?”

“Yes.” Yes!! You have reached your destination! A surge of pride swells in my chest, and for a glorious moment, I think that I am doing something right in this parenting thing.

My inflated ego is popped like a balloon when, quick as lightening, she tacks on, “But not with her.”

Rerouti… Yeah, we’re not getting there today.  I turned off the Teachable Moment journey, switched off Morality.Maps, and left it all behind, hoping that a nugget of truth got planted in there somewhere.

That’s where all of this kindness stuff goes. It may not seem like we’re producing any kindness fruit in our kids’ lives, but if we sow generously then we should reap generously. Rather than getting discouraged, I’m just going to trust the process, trust that I’ve planted the seeds and done my due diligence by it, and wait for the fruit to grow.

Remember, though, that the point isn’t about perfection. The point is to continue trending up.

But, who knows? For all I know my kids might turn out to be bank robbers.  Hopefully not sandpaper bank robbers, though.

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