Cleaning out my office the other day, I came across these old “kindness trees” I made with the kids when they were very small. It was our February family tradition to go beyond the hearts and candy of Valentine’s Day and instill the love of doing good in our kids. For some reason, we stopped doing it in recent years. But, I’ve decided to resurrect the kindness tree this year. It’s been almost a decade since the first kindness tree, and we’re much busier now with school, sports and activities. It will be interesting to see if we can take time out of our busy days to intentionally do something kind, or if we can notice some naturally occurring opportunities for kindness in our days.
How to do it
The concept is very simple. It is similar to creating a “Thankful tree” at Thanksgiving time (another tradition we really enjoy), but this time, we bring the family’s focus to kindness.
1. Make a tree of cardboard, paper, or real branches. Our first year, we used some scrap cardboard for the background and construction paper for the tree. This year, I’m upgrading a bit with a metal photo-holder tree from Pier One.
2. Cut out paper hearts (approximately 3 inches) from construction paper, craft foam, card stock, etc.
3. At the end of each day (dinnertime is a good time), family members describe something kind they did for someone else. Then, they write the good deed on a heart and hang it on the tree (use glue, tape, or ribbon, depending on your tree) Very small kids will need help with the writing and may need some prompting to remember something kind that they did.
4. Bask in some kindness! If you start now, by Valentine’s Day, you’ll have a nice collection of good deeds, done by your family, to remind you how good it feels when people treat each other with kindness. You’ll help your kids see that doing good feels good, which will (in theory) lead to more doing good.
All ages participate
When my kids were very small, the “good deeds” ranged from putting water in the dog’s bowl to making a Valentine for someone special. For the adults, the good deeds might have been “Mom made a meal for a friend who had surgery” or “Dad bought Mom a latte.” Now that my children are quite a bit older and heading into the teenage years, I’m hoping the kindnesses will be a bit bigger —perhaps a donation to a local charity, or standing up to a bully on behalf of a friend—but any good deed will be ok with me, as long as it shows a little effort. I’m especially hoping to foster kindness between the siblings!
To reward or not?
I’m a big believer in intrinsic motivation. I’d like the kindness itself to be its own reward, and for the good feeling that comes with caring for others to be motivation enough to participate. However, just in case my little plan needs a boost this year, I’m thinking of adding a reward: The person who has accumulated the most hearts by Valentine’s Day gets to be “king” or “queen” for the day – gets waited on and gets to rule the TV or other activities of the day. My hope is that a little friendly competition will build some enthusiasm for thinking of good deeds to do, and have some lasting effects well into March.
What do you think? Can you think of other ways to motivate kids to be kind? Have a way to improve on the kindness tree? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.