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I pray for you that you may be informed by the life of the Divine Spirit, so that you may be the means of educating others. The life and morals of a spiritual man are, in themselves, an education to those who know him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 166-167.
So far in this short series of essays on encouraging kindness in children, we’ve explored and reviewed a whole host of scientific and spiritual child-rearing methods that parents can use. In this final article in our series, let’s summarize and synopsize these five short, simple ways to raise kind children:
- Teach them to prefer others over themselves.
- Give children a spiritual education.
- Exemplify good character through deeds, not words.
- Inspire children with high ideals and goals.
- Educate your children in the moral teachings of the great Faiths.
The first of these critical steps—teaching children to prefer others over themselves—allows them to transcend their own egos and selfish desires; and to actually privilege their inborn, natural altruism. When a child learns to be selfless rather than selfish, it sets the stage for all of the following steps, and allows the child to find and foster love in the world:
A person through his own actions and deeds makes himself loved or disliked by the people; or through his own unselfish conduct and behaviour, refined morality and selfless intention, trustworthiness and rectitude he suffers himself to become favoured and beloved at the threshold of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 168.
Second, giving children a spiritual education—teaching them about the existence of the human spirit and its importance in their development and maturation—allows them to conceptualize the inner, spiritual attributes of life and imagine acquiring them:
The will and plan of God is that each individual member of humankind shall become illumined like unto a lamp, radiant with all the destined virtues of humanity, leading his fellow creatures out of natural darkness into the heavenly light. Therein rests the virtue and glory of the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 331.
The third step in the process of raising kind and caring children involves deeds, not words. Every parent knows that the example of their own lives has a greater impact on their children than anything they could possibly say—so this step requires a fair amount of introspection. Parents have to ask themselves at this stage: am I providing my children with a good example of the kind of person I’d like them to be? If my child turned out a lot like me; would that make me happy? This step often calls for real change, making it the hardest and yet the most rewarding way to teach kindness and caring:
O son of my handmaid! Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds. In this wise We counsel you in this holy and resplendent tablet. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 48-49.
The fourth stage in raising kind, caring children involves inspiration—allowing your children to glimpse and then form the highest ideals while they’re still young, which will lead them to lofty objectives throughout their lives. Adopting high spiritual ideals and goals, the Baha’i teachings say, leads us to divine guidance:
It is evident therefore that man is in need of divine education and inspiration; that the spirit and bounties of God are essential to his development. That is to say, the teachings of Christ and the prophets are necessary for his education and guidance. Why? Because they are the divine gardeners who till the earth of human hearts and minds. They educate man, uproot the weeds, burn the thorns and remodel the waste places into gardens and orchards where fruitful trees grow. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 77.
Finally, the Baha’i teachings urge every parent to educate their children in the “things of the spirit:”
As to thy question regarding the education of children: it behoveth thee to nurture them at the breast of the love of God, and urge them onward to the things of the spirit, that they may turn their faces unto God; that their ways may conform to the rules of good conduct and their character be second to none; that they make their own all the graces and praiseworthy qualities of humankind; acquire a sound knowledge of the various branches of learning, so that from the very beginning of life they may become spiritual beings, dwellers in the Kingdom, enamoured of the sweet breaths of holiness, and may receive an education religious, spiritual, and of the Heavenly Realm. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 142.