Back-To-School Prep ­­– Add Kindness To The List • Shaunti Feldhahn

I’m honored to bring you a guest blog this week from children’s author (and my former senior editor) Katie Kenny Phillips. Katie is “a writer for kids (and their grown-ups!)” and I invited her this week to write a guest blog that my readers have asked for – principles from The Kindness Challenge adapted for kids. Enjoy! (And after reading today’s blog, I know you’ll want to check out Katie’s books here!)

By Katie Kenny Phillips

Summer is about to end for many of us. In the South, our kids head back to school at the beginning of August. For some of you, you’re smack dab in the middle of your glorious summer and your kids might start back to school much later. Wherever you find yourselves, one thing is certain: heading back to the classroom means back-to-school prep. 

A few years ago, our elementary school (bless them!) began giving us the option to order back-to-school supply kits that included everything they needed for each grade. For this non-shopping-loving mama, I couldn’t hit “purchase now” fast enough. No more wandering the aisles at the end of the summer with each of my five kids, searching for the correct three-prong orange folder (WITH POCKETS, MOM!) No more “Where are the purple pens? No, not THAT kind of purple!” No more tears of frustration … I mean, my kids really hated when I did that in our local Target. 

But what about preparing them for other things they’ll need at school? Like the skills to deal with their relationships when they become more complex and prickly? Like …

  • When a best friend doesn’t always act like a best friend every day
  • When a teacher is sometimes grumpy with them but they seem nice to the other students
  • Or when a teammate is not always the easiest to get along with

Kindness Begins at Home

Navigating relationships can be tricky. But these are skills we need to cultivate and practice at home before heading back into the classroom. 

One of the best ways we can set our kids up for success is by helping them learn the simple art of being kind. If we focus on being proactively kind – especially in our relationships with our more challenging people (ugh, you know who I’m talking about!), kindness affects our own responses and feelings which can make life a whole lot better for ourselves and others. 

So how do we help our kids practice kindness so they’re prepared for the upcoming school year? My recommendation is to turn The Kindness Challenge by Shaunti Feldhahn into a game. As a family, you can practice flexing your kindness muscle at home before school starts. If your house is anything like mine, there are groups of siblings who take turns being irritated by each other. Someone’s always annoyed so therefore there’s always a kid who can play the game. Help your child pick someone they struggle with and explain the rules of the kindness game. 

Here’s how to start:

Rule 1: Do not say anything unkind to or about the person 

Explain to your child that they will say nothing negative about their person (either to their face or behind their back.) You might need to establish a code with your child in case they slip up. Remember Carol Burnett tugging on her ear at the end of her show as a secret message to her family? Go ahead and tug your ear, pat your head, or do a leprechaun kick if you hear your child falling into the old habit of saying something unkind. They can stop themselves mid-sentence, and say, “Whoops, that wasn’t kind. Sorry!”

Let your child know that the more they practice refraining from saying unkind words, the better they will feel. Keep track on a calendar or notebook to mark the progress. It’s amazing how seeing the momentum build – and starting to notice how their person responds – can encourage your child to keep the kindness train moving.

Rule 2: Find one positive thing you can say to them or about them every day

Every day help your child brainstorm something positive they can say about their person. This can be tricky when their brother is always annoying or their little sister always pesters them.

This may take some guiding questions on your part, as in: “What’s something cool that your brother does well? You like when he bakes cookies and cakes.” This can lead to them telling their brother that the cookies he made last night for dessert were extra delicious. And maybe even asking if he would be willing to teach them how to make them sometime?

Or you could prompt your child to think about their little sister and how she’s always so cheerful in the morning. Your child could say, “I really love how happy and sunshiny you are at breakfast. It makes me so happy to see your smile!” Ask your child if they notice anything different in their person when they say positive things to them.

Rule 3: Do an act of kindness for them every day

Help your child come up with something nice to do for their person every day. I remember when two of my boys were struggling in their relationship, I worked with them to stop and think how they could make each other’s day. Some days it looked like us sneaking into their room and secretly making their bed. Other times we would be at the grocery store and I’d ask one of them for their brother’s favorite snack. “Let’s make their day!” I’d say. You’d be surprised how fun it can be when you’re actively searching for ways to be kind to someone else – even someone who is often difficult to get along with.

The Kindness Challenge encourages participants to do these three steps over the course of thirty days to see what happens with the relationship. So often, people are shocked by how much their prickly relationships improve (I can vouch for it – I’ve done it myself!) Their interactions with their person become more positive and how they feel about their person improves. Kindness changes us … and a lot of times, it changes others. 

So let’s be intentional as we prepare our kids for their upcoming school year. Of course that means the folders and pens and the impossible-to-find notebooks. But it also means practicing the skills they need to show kindness to others who may be a little difficult. When our kids practice at home, not only will the family dynamic improve, but they’ll be gaining valuable experience in being a true light as they get ready to head off to school in the fall.

Their kindness will make a real difference – and I think we’d all agree, we need a little more of that in our homes and in the world.

Oh, and of course, in the school supply aisle at Target. 

Katie Kenny Phillips is a children’s author and screenwriter and has spent the last decade as a freelance writer and editor, most notably with bestselling author/speaker Shaunti Feldhahn. She works with Director and Producer Shari Rigby and her ministry, The Women In My World, and focuses on serving women of faith in entertainment and media. 

Katie lives in Atlanta and is a mom of five (three biological and two by way of foster care and adoption). Her most recent children’s book, Today I Feel Like a Jelly Donut: A Book About Emotions is available on Amazon. 

And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at [email protected].

Please note: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn a small amount from qualifying purchases through these affiliate links. This doesn’t cost you anything, and helps us continue bringing you great content!

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