Virtue Wednesday: Love

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“Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble

and there is always time.”

Abdu’l-Baha

Today’s Virtue Wednesday is about Love. I chose this wonderful virtue to talk about in dedication to my dearest husband, who just celebrated his birthday on February 4th.
When I think Love, I always have this fuzzy warm feeling. It is such an uplifting feeling and while often people think that love is all about dreamy state of mind, where your head is in the clouds and your acquire wings, love is actually much more than that.
As a child, feeling love for me was about my parents smile, their encouragement, my friends appreciation, being hugged and kissed, consoled when I was sad.
When I grew up, I realized how much more there is to love: trust, appreciation, friendliness, honesty, care, consideration and more.
One person I could see showing all of this was my husband. When we started getting closer as friends, I could see him being so genuine in his words and actions, no hidden agenda, no hidden motives. He spoke his mind out, yet, he truly cared how it was perceived. I fell in love with this man and 6 years later I am grateful every day for how much love he has in his heart and mind for me, our children and people around. If you want to read the story of how we met and got married, you can read in my post on Our Anniversary.
When we teach children about love, we always tell them that even though we get upset with them sometimes, or they get upset with us, it doesn’t mean the love stops. It just means we have come to some obstacle that we need to overcome together, using the power of virtues, using the power of love.
We start our day with greetings and confirmations, waking them up with kind words and kisses and hugs. We assure them of our love. And they assure us in theirs.
If we have disagreements or some problems between us, we try to cool down and sort things out by communicating with each other, finding a solution, a good compromise. We again assure each other there is always love for one another.
We also talk about showing love not only to family and friends, but to strangers too. We explain that it doesn’t mean running to hug and kiss everyone we see. It is just by being kind, polite and helpful if the need arises. Treating people fairly and equally despite their background and social status.
We talk about overwhelming feelings and how everyone can lose patiences or get angry from time to time. It happens to us, it happens to our children, friends, family and strangers. Sometimes with other people we have no chance to sort things out, but we can still learn from the experience and try to do better on our side the next time we meet with such obstacle.
If we really look around, love is everywhere. It is not hard to see. We just forget to find it at times. We let other feelings overpower the strongest force this world has ever had – Love.
Here I would like to revisit last week’s activity on Heartlings and suggest it again as it really is a helpful reminder about love and consideration.
How do you talk about love with your children? Do you have any interesting activities which teach about the virtue of Love?

Virtue Wednesday: Thoughtfulness

Since my blogging break and hopefully over (at least for the time being!), I am very happy to resume sharing some thoughts and activities related to character development and nurturing virtues.
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Today I would like to introduce to you a virtue of Thoughtfulness. And I would like to share with you a couple of quotes that always make me contemplate about this virtue:
“The people of this world are thinking of warfare; you must be peacemakers. The nations are self-centered; you must be thoughtful of others rather than yourselves. They are neglectful; you must be mindful.” 
Abdu’l-Baha (The Promulgation of Universal Peace)
“Let them [all human beings] at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows,
offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help” 
Abdu’l-Baha (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha)
Being thoughtful means being considerate of other people’s feelings, thoughts, comfort. It means trying to put yourself in their place. It also means paying attention to people’s preferences.
Teaching thoughtfulness is as hard as teaching obedience. Thoughtfulness requires a huge amount of love and patience. When reminding a child to be thoughtful and considerate, we have to do the same with them. We are often bound by time-tables, time frames, our schedules and our need to rush. And in some cases, we procrastinate when our children ask us to do something. We always find a way to stretch time and no wonder we find our own children doing the same.
Thoughtfulness to me breaks down into “being full of thoughts about someone”. Literally meaning observing and thinking. When my picky eater refuses to eat what I made, I plead her to think about all the work I’ve done to prepare the meal and how there are people in the world who don’t even get to eat half of what we can afford. Perhaps at the moment to a 5 year old thinking about someone who has no food without seeing them or being around them is actually an empty sound. But as the time passes, as we are exposed to media, as the child grows to notice more and more things around, he/she will start asking questions and want the answers. I suggest not to wait for that moment but to let your child hear about things in a loving manner and not in a way we would complain. E.g.  “I love you and I think of your health, so I made all this delicious healthy food for you. Let’s make each other happy and eat?”  – a loving explanation. “I spent so much time making food and you are refusing to eat?! You are so ungrateful!” – not a loving explanation.
I will admit: I am not always this loving patient mom. I am bound by time frames and schedules at times. I rush my children, I even scold them at times. However, I always try to find a way to change that and improve myself in a first place. My responsibility as a parent to my children is to show them that there IS a better way of living and dealing with things.
So, recently, after a big meltdown that turned into a blowout (because, we lose patience too, you know), I was putting my 5 year old to bed. And she asked to read her a story. Because our 18 months old was very cranky and sleepy and I had to nurse her to sleep, I suggested that we turn off the lights and I can tell a story instead.
And here’s what I told:
“Once upon a time, there was a happy family: a mommy, a daddy, a big sister and a little sister. All was good, but sometimes big sister didn’t want to listen to her parents and she would tease her little sister. She would also throw fits at the table refusing to eat food that her mommy cooked for her. Mommy and daddy would get sad. Sometimes they would get upset. And once in a while they would get very angry. But after that they would feel awful and they would all apologize and say prayers together, asking God to give them more strength and patience.
So one day, after a big angry conversation, mommy had an idea. She suggested that every time someone gets angry or upset or someone makes another angry or upset, they give each other hearts. And at the end of the week they can count those hearts and talk about how to improve so they are all happy. First week, there were so many hearts! It was actually fun to sit down and discuss what happened during the week and come up with ideas what would be a better way to deal with different situations.
As the time passed, the number of hearts became less and less. Somehow it didn’t feel nice. Then mommy and big sister came up with the solution: since it is always so nice to receive hearts, why not give hearts at times when they make each other happy? This way the number of hearts will always be large and it would also be very thoughtful to concentrate on upsetting thing but rather concentrate on happy moments.
And so they continued giving hearts to each other. They still had their weekly discussions on self-improvement, but they were even more fun as no one could even remember why each heart was given for. And as the time passed, it seemed that most of the hearts were given in order to remember the happy moments.
The End.”
And then… my 5 year old asked whether it was ok to give me and my husband and our 18 months old hearts if she did something that upset us. And that’s how the Weekly Heartlings were born. We have just started. And we haven’t really come to a point where we can say we have thoroughly improved our ways. But it is a start! And most important – it makes everyone happy. And since this activity is designed for the whole family, it takes into consideration each and every member.

How to Use Weekly Heartlings:

1. Cut out of paper hearts of desired size.
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2. Glue sort of pocket to a piece of thick construction paper, 1 for each member of the family.
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3. Write on top: Weekly Heartlings. And Below: If you made someone happy or sad, leave a heart in their pocket – show your love and thoughtfulness.
4. Place the board somewhere in a visible place and at the height accessible to the youngest children who can participate consciously in this activity.
5. Make another pocket to place near the board and place all the hearts inside.
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6. Explain the idea to your family members at a family circle or during a family consultation.
7. Use the hearts as you wish. Encourage everyone to put hearts in the pockets.
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8. At the end of the week, collect and count the hearts. You can add extra hearts to make an even number for everyone. Talk about your week. Discuss where you can improve yourselves. You can also recall decisions made the week before and follow up on how you’ve been doing in fulfilling them.
Oh, and per my daughter’s advice: every time you give a heart, give a hug to this person as well! Because apparently, one can’t be given without the other. Isn’t it thoughtful?!?
How do you teach thoughtfulness to your children?

Virtue Wednesday: Elevating Empathy

I am very happy to introduce today’s Virtue Wednesday post written by Barbara Gruener!

Barbara Gruener is a school counsellor and character coach at a National School of Character in Friendswood, Texas. When she’s not working with tomorrow’s leaders, she enjoys reading, writing, baking, knitting and spending time with her family. Barbara is the author of The Corner On Character blog.

Empathy. It’s all that I’ve been able to think about since I heard parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba talk about this all-important virtue at a Character Education Conference three years ago.

Empathy. It’s the virtue that allows us to identify with and understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives.

Empathy. What if it really is the key to solving the bullying epidemic? What if it really is the most important thing a student brings to a class family? What if it really is simply that powerful?

So since then, I’ve been working with my students to recognize and understand what empathy is; how it looks, how it sounds, and how it feels and how it works.

Our first step in elevating empathy is teaching children about feelings. They won’t be able to understand another’s feelings if they don’t recognize, understand, and manage their own in healthy ways. I’ve done a lot of empathy work with my students by simply asking, “What was that experience like for you?” and “How did that feel?” I’ve turned my ceiling tiles into feeling tiles by drawing emoticons on them. Students will point to the tiles that they think best matches their feeling. I’m careful to remind them that we may not always choose our feelings, but we get to choose how we react to them. Every time.

Once they understand their feelings, it’s easier to experience empathy for one another. I use a lot of literature in my peace classes and encourage text-to-self connections by stopping periodically through stories to ask, “What’s going on with that character?” and “What would it feel like to be him?” “And what does he need?” A great example of a page that I’ve used to elevate empathy is this one from The Potato Chip Champ by Maria Dismondy.

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