The Kindness Contest: A Mystery

I don’t know about your kids, but sometimes my kids don’t talk very nicely to one another.  Mostly, it’s the boys.

They are 9 and 5 and typically, my sons surprise me with their kindness.  Either of them would give you their last marshmallow if you asked for it. But with one another, they sometimes struggle.  They are roommates and playmates, and eventually all of that togetherness pushes them over the edge. Amy and I try to avoid officiating the copying, pushing, touching, breathing, stealing, staring, talking rude, talking incessantly, following, and baiting.  Typically we send the tattler back into the fray with the charge, “Go tell your brother how you feel about that.” But we are their parents, so when it gets bad we step in.

Then, last weekend, my 12 year old daughter made brownies, and the sweet chocolaty aroma warmed the whole house.  The brotherly bickering that had been simmering shifted suddenly into a zombie duet, with both brothers moaning and faux-drooling at the rectangular brown cake.

I asked them to start setting the table for dinner, and as an afterthought, I said “Whoever is the kindest during dinner gets the most brownies for dessert.” And what happened next was hardly remarkable.  Of course, they got kind.  Brownies were on the line.  They turned on the charm and started complementing each other and serving each other, getting each other drink refills and extra napkins.  It was a hoot, and I almost broke the spell by imitating their singsongy politeness, but something stopped me.  Sometime during the meal I realized that their kindness, though originally motivated by chocolate, had quickly become totally sincere.

For the next two hours, past the brownies (they tied for the kindness win, and each got 3 squares) all the way through bedtime, my two sons were more genial and courteous with each other than I had ever seen.  Honestly, it was the sweetest and most wonderful evening.  I’m still processing what happened, and thinking on how to build on that experience for their future.  There’s some golden nugget of truth hanging there just beyond my reach.  I’ll let you know if I ever grasp it.

8 thoughts on “The Kindness Contest: A Mystery

  1. Thanks for the post Randall! 🙂 The other week my son made my daughter a waffle (again with the frozen waffles) for breakfast. He even buttered it for her. During the breakfast my daughter made a comment that was unappreciative towards that breakfast. She didn’t like the way he buttered her waffle for her. I politely stepped in and said

    “you know, you should be thankful for that waffle. Your brother did something kind for you this morning. There are nicer ways of handling the buttering of your waffle. If you aren’t nice in return to him, he may not be so kind in the future in making you breakfast again.”

    being kind is easy towards others…but for some reason it seems to be harder in showing kindness to family. I think that’s a struggle in all of us in some way.

  2. Thanks for the post. I attempted a longer comment towards this. I appreciated this. I see kindness between my children and yet I also see unkindness…..

    …the kindness that is displayed makes me a proud parent. 🙂

    Why does it seem to me that showing kindness towards family is much harder than showing kindness towards nonfamily?

  3. Well, I guess my longer post did appear…. so now you have two comments from me…. I don’t know what happened. Computer issues 🙂 I’m never really good at leaving comments on anything.

    Cindy Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2013 03:14:07 +0000 To:

  4. this is wonderful. totally gonna do it. and why is it so hard for them love each other? i have a theory – your family are the only people that HAVE to love you, no matter what. so you test it and let your guard down, and stop holding the iron fist on your self-control. i’m not saying this is good, i’m saying this is what i think is happening.

    i personally didn’t have siblings, so when my 4 kids start in i’m like “why are you being so mean? that’s your family” i can’t stand the unkindness. it’s painful. so i’m always looking for new ways to encourage it.

  5. I’m always amazed how mean and sweet my kids can be to each other in a matter of minutes. There is certainly a fine line between referring and encouraging them to work it out that I think I too often cross. Perhaps I should offer myself a brownie as a reward for not crossing it! 🙂

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