It is written: A day should not pass without acts of loving-kindness, either with one’s body, money, or soul.
-Rabbi Yeshayahu Segal Horowitz, Sh’nei Luchot Ha’Brit
Jewish tradition recognizes acts of loving kindness as the highest level of soul traits. According to Jewish thought, true loving-kindness, or chesed in Hebrew, must have completely selfless motives. If our goal is to be a kind, loving community where children, friends, parents, and teachers all treat each other with kindness, what does that look like to us and to our children? Mussar teachings express that in order for our actions to qualify as chesed, we need to go out of our way to help those in need; we must be sensitive to others’ feelings and we need to demonstrate with our actions that we care.
Children are instinctively considerate and kind. “The desire to help is innate,” says David Schonfeld, MD, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “At first, children like to help others because it helps them get what they want. Next, they do so because they get praise. Finally, they begin to anticipate the needs of others, and it becomes intrinsically rewarding to do nice things for people in their lives.”
Since the experts tell us that children naturally want to help others, what do we as parents need to do to insure that this inclination will grow, rather than be extinguished? Modeling acts of kindness for our children provides our greatest opportunity to reach this goal. It is important for children to understand that they can demonstrate small acts of kindness every day and these small acts have tremendous power. Bring more kindness into your family by modeling it for your children. If you operate a loving and kind household, children learn to be loving and kind, not only in their homes, but in their communities as well.
Read and reread books encouraging kindness to your children. Some suggestions are: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Giant Hug by Sandra Horning. When children demonstrate loving-kindness we need to express our pride, so they learn that we value these actions.
“No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.”
Want to teach Jewish values to children? Mussar for Children: Jewish Values for Everyday Living Curriculum is the only Jewish values program geared specifically for young children.
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Jewish values for children
The Mussar Institute
© 2015 Michelle Princenthal
Photo by graur razvan ionut.