When you become parents, you set some guidelines for how you are going to raise your children. I don’t remember ever sitting down and having these talks with my husband before we got married, as some people suggest, but thankfully, my husband and I have agreed on most points of parenting.
One of the many decisions we made early on was not to have our children involved in too many activities at one time. We didn’t want to be that family that spent every night of the week shuttling our kids from one event to the next, grabbing dinners at a fast-food drive-thru, and having our children half-ass their homework at nine o’clock at night.
For a long time, this wasn’t a problem since our older daughter never really got interested in many activities. We had her try dance, take swim lessons, do gymnastics…each one at a time. She’d enjoy the activity to some degree, but ultimately, she wasn’t too passionate about any of them. When she stopped taking dance, my mother asked her if she missed it. “Nah, I’m over it,” was her response. She was five.
I asked her if she wanted to try soccer, volleyball, softball, or basketball, but she insisted that when she came home from school, what she really wanted to do was play with her baby sister.
While I thought this was sweet, and definitely saved us time and money, I worried that she would grow up not having found her niche. I thought that by the time she realized what she wanted to do, her friends would already have cultivated their talents and she would be left behind. Being involved in sports or clubs helps grow friendships; they teach confidence and skills like teamwork and leadership. As a teacher, I know that the students who are involved in extra-curricular activities tend to do better academically. Yet at the same time, I never wanted to push her into an activity that she didn’t genuinely have an interest in. I didn’t want her to be a cheerleader just because I was, or have her play softball just because her dad played baseball. And honestly, I was the same way when I was a kid, so I could see where she got it.
So I waited, and continued to ask her if there was anything she wanted to do, hoping one day she’d say yes.
At the start of second grade, she expressed an interest in Girl Scouts. While I was happy to sign her up, I still wanted her to do a more physical activity. In our state, PE is not required at the elementary level. While most schools offer PE, it is funded primarily through the PTOs at each individual school site. And PE once a week does not equate to teaching my child how to live a healthy and active lifestyle. While some might argue that kids run around every day at their multiple recesses, I’ve also seen kids sit picking at the grass, so I wanted to make sure that my daughter got some exercise outside of her normal school day.
Around January, I asked my daughter if she wanted to try karate. To my surprise, she said yes. It’s funny, but when she was a toddler, she used to tell me and my husband that she was doing Thai-Chi and she would do some movements that looked pretty close to what I imagine Thai-Chi to be. Who knows where she got it. Probably Ni Hao Kai-Lan. Regardless, I am happy to say we signed her up, and since then, karate has been the best experience we have had with any organized activity to date.
I LOVE my daughter’s karate school. While it costs a little more than some other programs, they allow their students to attend as many classes a week as they want. On average, my daughter attends karate three times a week. Aside from the instructors knowing every student by name on the very first day and making the classes both instructional and fun, the martial arts academy that she attends teaches respect, integrity, self-discipline, and focus. They make the students articulate what those things mean. They also make the students practice at home in order to move on. It’s helped our daughter to learn about dedication and setting-goals. As she has earned her new belts, she has felt a sense of pride that I never saw in her when she had a dance recital or got a star for mastering a skill at gymnastics.
Currently, my daughter is working towards her green belt. In addition to her boxing and kicking, for one of her components of this next belt, she had to complete ten acts of kindness and write them down. While we always try to teach our children to be nice, this presented an opportunity to talk to our daughter more about what it means to be kind, to brainstorm with her different acts of kindness, to point out to her moments in her daily life where she perhaps overlooked an opportunity to be kind, and to watch her do things that made her, and us, feel really good inside.
It also proved to be a more difficult task than I initially anticipated. Our daughter can be shy at times, and children also tend to be very self-centered, so getting her to consider when she was doing something for others versus doing something for herself was a challenge. Like the day she said, “I let Eileen cut me in line at lunch.” But when I asked her why she did that, she said, “so I could sit by her.” She wasn’t doing something to benefit Eileen, she was doing something to benefit herself.
For the past month, a common question in addition to “how was school?” and “what did you learn today?” was “did you do anything kind today?”
After several consecutive days of her responding, “good,” “I don’t remember,” and “no,” I was starting to feel a little discouraged.
You went a whole day and you didn’t do anything kind?
But it made me think: Did I do anything kind that day? If someone asked me the same question, how would I respond?
As an adult, I probably would be better at coming up with an answer, but did I set out each day with the intention of doing kind deeds? Not really.
I needed to start modeling. I would purposefully stop to bring Starbucks to my daycare lady when I went to pick up my youngest and point out to my eldest that I didn’t have to do that, but I wanted to and I knew it would be a nice surprise. I looked for opportunities within our community to volunteer or make a donation.
And my husband started modeling too. He made a tool for picking up litter and when he walked to pick up our daughter from school, they- along with help from our little one-filled up three bags worth of trash on the walk home.
What started as something for our daughter to complete, became something the whole family was participating in.
Pretty soon, I found myself asking her before her day even started to look for opportunities to do kind things that day at school, listing a few examples, and by the end of the day, she’d have done something. Like the day she held the door open for three classes to walk out to recess. While it may not seem like a big deal, for her to have thought of it and found the opportunity on her own and to have acted upon it, it was huge.
As my daughter neared the end of her list, we reminded her that she didn’t have to stop doing acts of kindness just because she had fulfilled her requirement for her green belt; we should be doing kind acts as often as we can.
When we signed up for karate, I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into. Was it going to be another activity that my daughter would participate in for a few months and then get bored of?
Six months later, she talks about the day she gets her black belt and I believe that one day, she will. But what we have gotten out of karate has been the biggest surprise. It has given us the opportunity for conversations that we might not have otherwise had with our daughter. It has helped us to shape her into a better human being, and for that, I am ever thankful.
Imagine if everyone had a list of ten kind acts to complete, wouldn’t the world be a better place as a result?
Stop and think: What’s the last kind thing you’ve intentionally done? Where can you find opportunities to be kind tomorrow?