Most of us try to live our lives according to the Golden Rule, but “Love Thy Neighbor” is a daunting mandate when you start to think about how to turn words into actions. Should we love our neighbors by giving hugs each time we see them? Do we show our love by being a good listener? Does this mean we put others’ needs ahead of our own? And who are these pesky neighbors anyway?
Just because I’m an adult does not mean I have completed my education on showing my love to others. Every day is a new learning opportunity and my hope is that I do far more encouraging and empowering than belittling and devaluing. I think I do a pretty good job most days, but the failures stay in my thoughts long after the offenses occur. I do not fear the words “I’m sorry”, but also know an apology is a poor substitute for conducting myself in a manner which does not require apologies at all.
When it comes to teaching my children how to treat others, I feel even more concerned with how to impart meaningful knowledge instead of simply reprimanding them for failure to say “please” and “thank you.” I tend to forget how difficult some concepts are for children to understand and my recent experience trying to talk about friendship, kindness, understanding, humility and consideration has reminded me that these are big words with a heckuva lot of collective meaning.
As with any task, I think the key to educating children on this broad topic is to take it one step at a time – one concept at a time, if you will. I also believe in illustrations and stories to help them connect to and remember ideas. I’ve stumbled upon a couple of illustrations/activities over the years which have been particularly helpful in communicating to my kids about how I expect them to treat others. The following illustration is something my daughter learned in Kindergarten and I think it is so powerful!
The Wrinkled Heart
Here is my daughter’s heart. Bailey was born with a big, beautiful heart.
Whenever someone says something hurtful to her, her heart gets just a little bit wrinkled (or crinkled, as my kids prefer to say).
“You aren’t my friend, Bailey!”
“Your shirt is so ugly.”
With each comment or action, Bailey’s heart gets more and more wrinkled and crumpled until it seems as though there is nothing left.
The good news is that the good things people say to Bailey can cancel out some of the bad. “Bailey, come sit by me in music class!”
“Thank you for helping me pick up the crayons I dropped. You’re a good helper.”
“Do you want to play with us on the playground?”
Each encouraging comment creates an opportunity for Bailey’s heart to regain its original shape and get rid of the hurt. When you treat someone well and make them feel good about themselves, you are helping their heart continue to be full and beautiful.
But, what do you notice about the heart, even after all the positive comments or actions? The wrinkles in the heart can still be seen, even though the heart is now unfolded and full.
We each have wrinkles left over from the disparaging words and actions of others and those wrinkles will remain long after we’ve forgotten the exact reason for our hurt. Because of this, we should all be mindful of how we treat others because our poor choices may in fact stay in their heart forever.
How do you teach your children about the Golden Rule?