...Understanding that a lot of what makes up "kindness" will come in time, with greater brain development and emotional intelligence, I do hope, even now, to hold up kindness first and foremost, as a mother and a teacher.
I got this idea of a "kindness tree" from a mentor of mine, and I love the way it has put a focus on kindness without becoming a reward system. This idea would work just as easily in a home as it would in a small group or a classroom setting.
Here is the basic idea of the Kindness Tree:
- In your home or classroom, have a bare tree to which you can add leaves over time. You may want to begin a discussion of kindness using a fable such as Aesop's Lion and Mouse - which teaches that even someone very small can make a difference with a small kind act!
- When you introduce the tree to your children, explain that the leaves will represent acts of kindness that happen in our family or classroom. As you grow in kindness toward one another, the tree will become a beautiful symbol of all the good you have added to the world and to each other!
- In order to avoid this becoming a reward system (in which the reward so often becomes more important than the act itself!), explain that most of the time, leaves will be added in secret. You are always watching for acts of kindness, but you can add leaves to the tree without creating a big show of someone "earning" a leaf. (Sometimes a simple verbal acknowledgement is great - "You helped your little brother find his lost toy. That was kind.")
If you feel a certain child could benefit from the encouragement of seeing a leaf added for them, it may be helpful to quietly pull them aside and tell them what you noticed them doing, and that it was kind. Sometimes, then, a child can add their own leaf to the tree, quietly, without fanfare - and still the focus will be kept on kindness rather than the reward.
I learned in my first week using this that some children who especially want rewards may try to "earn" leaves, or do kind things simply for the leaf. They may ask, "Did you see what I did? Can I have a leaf?" This focus on reward can easily be shifted if you simply acknowledge that you did notice, and that you will be the one to decide when leaves are added.
As the branches of the tree fill, we have a visual reminder of the good and kind things we have added to those around us. These acts of kindness do not die, but echo through time as they are passed on to others. How fitting, then, to have this image of a tree filling with leaves that last. As Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”