How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Jerks

If you have been here for longer than four minutes, you might already know that I don’t do subtle. My parents should have named me Frank. So people would know.

SIDE NOTE: This isn’t the same idea as my husband saying I should get a black heart tattooed right up front on my forearm or something. He said people should know what they’re getting into. I am apparently Cameron Diaz in The Holiday.


So here it is. Sometimes, kids are jerks. No kidding. They’ll be these super rad mid-sized humans that I want to hang out with, and then BAM. Way outta left field I get smacked between my frontal lobe with their underdeveloped sense of awareness. And I am looking around for Ashton Kutcher and his camera crew because there’s no way I am not being punk’d right now.

You didn’t just say that. You didn’t just do that. Did you seriously put that empty box of cookies back in the pantry? Did you just call that girl fat??? Did you just slap your brother? Are those my tights? Did you for real use marker to write the word “juicy” on the butt of those brand new sweats? WHY ARE YOU SUDDENLY INSANE?

To the best of my ability this question does not leave my lips. But it sits there. On my tongue. At the ready in case they say something awesome like, “Calm down,” or “What’s the bid deal?” With a heavy dose of shoulder shrug.

Did you just shrug your shoulder at me? I asked you if that box of cookies is empty and you shrug your shoulder? I can’t help but feel you do actually know the answer to this one. Let’s look at the statistics. Statistically speaking, when is the last time you held a box of cookies, ate all but the very last one, and put THAT 1 cookied-box back in the pantry? Oh, this side of never? Ok. I see. 

So. Here’s the deal. We have to teach them. Starting when they are teeny- like three. We teach them to hold doors for whoever is coming next. We teach them please and thank you and you’re welcome. We teach them to respond when asked, “How are you? What’s your name?” And while we are at it we teach them to shake hands and pick up garbage. To offer, every time, even to a stranger, to take their empty plate as they clean up their own.

We whisper reminders and preface every trip into the store with a quick roll out of expectations. Look fors.

Then we provide opportunities. We take them to soup kitchens and we keep rolls of socks and mittens with a granola bar hidden inside in our cars for whoever we run into.

We set aside $5 for ministry and let them choose who they think should get it. The only rules are that we take turns on who does the deciding and we all pray together to ask the Holy Spirit, “Is this where you want this money to go?” This mamma who seems to be having a tired day at the store and could really use a coffee. This homeless man? The guy in front of us who is a couple bucks short and the idea of putting back his candy bar exudes “last straw” vibes? The person behind us at the Ferris Wheel because they want to ride again and again?

We have them write their teacher thank you notes just because it’s Friday and she hasn’t killed anyone all week.

It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that it’s outward. It teaches our babies how to serve. It models to them what serving is, which then turns around and helps their heart understand why one guy washing feet so many years ago was such a big deal. It’s about others.

If we want the kind of kids who see a need and fill it, we have to be intentional about that.